ALBANY — Five leading New York City chambers of commerce are joining retail workers and store owners in calling on lawmakers to pass a trio of bills that would increase penalties for shoplifters.
Business-oriented organizations are backing the Collective Action to Protect Our Stores, or CAPS, a coalition of store owners and workers pushing for legislation that would make assaulting a retail employee or store owner a violent felony. and entitled to bail.
Other bills in the package would crack down on online reselling of stolen items and increase punishment for repeat thieves.
“New Yorkers want to be able to go to their retail stores in peace and they want workers to be protected,” Jessica Walker, president and CEO of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement.
Walker called the proposals “common sense political solutions that can get the job done.”
Chamber leaders representing Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island and Brooklyn also joined the push.
The measure increasing penalties for assault, sponsored by Sen. Jessica Scarcella-Spanton (D-Staten Island) and Assemblyman Manny De Los Santos (D-Manhattan), would make an assault on a retail worker a Class D felony. , which means that judges would be able to set bail on suspects.
Therefore, the bill would put assaults on store workers in the same category as assaults on police officers, firefighters, livery drivers and MTA employees.
Earlier this month, a Bronx supermarket clerk was attacked by a pair of suspected shoplifters, just days after a masked gunman fatally shot a Manhattan bodega clerk.
Nelson Eusebio of Collective Action to Protect Our Stores thanked chamber leaders for their support and called on lawmakers to pass legislation he believes could deter similar attacks.
“Local economies cannot thrive when retail theft is a problem, so we need our leaders in Albany to step up and pass laws that will keep our stores safe and allow consumers to shop in peace,” said Eusebio.
CAPS represents approximately 10,000 stores across the state, including grocery stores and bodegas in all five boroughs.
A second measure aimed at cracking down on stolen items being sold online would create the offense of encouraging the sale of stolen goods. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, both Democrats from Manhattan, would make it a class A misdemeanor to knowingly sell stolen items online.
The third bill sponsored by the group, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Thomas (D-Nassau) and Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-Bronx), would make petty theft a felony if committed within two years of a previous conviction.
Shoplifting and other crimes have spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic in New York, prompting Mayor Adams and others to call for an overhaul of the state’s bail system. Reforms implemented in 2019 eliminated cash bail for most nonviolent misdemeanors and felonies.
Critics have blamed the reforms for increases in crime despite scant evidence showing a correlation.
Adams earlier this month also asked shoppers to remove their masks, which many New Yorkers still wear to prevent contracting the coronavirus, when entering the city’s businesses in an attempt to reduce shoplifting.
Recent New York police and state statistics show that, overall, crime is on the decline. According to police officers, thefts were down 15% and 11% last month compared to February 2022.
A group of legal advocacy groups and advocates issued a joint memo rejecting the larceny-focused bills earlier this week, arguing that changing bail laws or increasing penalties “will not address the problem and will only do further harm.” ”.
Legal advocacy groups, including Harlem Neighborhood Advocate Services, Bronx Advocates, New York Civil Liberties Union, Brooklyn Advocates, Citizen Action and Legal Aid Society, said instead of revise sanctions, lawmakers should focus on using the budget. Strengthen the social safety net by promoting supportive housing, support for victims and survivors, and evidence-backed harm reduction.
“Everyone has the right to be safe and no one should be afraid to go to work. However, changing state laws to incarcerate more black, brown, and low-income people will not meaningfully protect retail stores or workers,” Bronx Defenders said in a statement. “Most people arrested for petty theft are struggling with poverty, mental health issues, drug use, or all three.”