TULSA, Okla. — Two women are behind bars for stealing more than $100,000 worth in cigarettes.
Their arrest is shedding light on a much bigger problem — organized retail crime.
When a retail experiences theft loss, it has to make up for the cost of the stolen items. Often, it is the taxpayer who ends up covering the cost.
“In 2018, here in Tulsa, the average professional thief that we sent through to prosecution had stolen a dozen times and had stolen over $9,000 on average before we got them stopped with an arrest,” said Norm Smaligo with the Oklahoma Retail Crime Association.
Shoplifting in Oklahoma has been on the rise. Smaligo said the spike in cases is because thieves are masters at what they do, and many have refined their criminal tactics.
“We just looked at the criminal histories of 119 career property crime thieves over the past 10 years. Thirty-eight percent of them, despite averaging 14 felony arrests during that time saw zero time in prison.”
Smaligo with the Oklahoma Retail Crime Association said many continue criminal acts because they often go unpunished. He said many of them experience an average time in prison of fewer than 40 days per felony.
“If you think that’s a deterrent — it’s not. That’s nothing to them," Smaligo said. "Forty days, they’re in and out, and they go right back to it."
Every year, stores experience billions of dollars in shoplifting theft losses, and stores have to make up for those losses.
“Every citizen is paying an invisible tax of $500 a year extra to cover the losses due to theft,” Smaligo said.
The Oklahoma Retail Crime Association hopes the state passes two bills that would help in addressing the problem. One of those bills would force online retailers like Facebook Marketplace to flag high volume vendors and require them to have a taxpayer ID number, which would help track any suspicious activity.
Smalgio said forcing online vendors to provide their taxpayer information would help deter thieves from selling stolen items online.
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