New Toronto Crime Stoppers campaign targets ‘organized retail crime’ that goes beyond shoplifting
Published Tuesday, October 3, 2023 2:11PM EDT
Toronto police say they have seen a rise in crimes targeting retail spaces and some of it appears to be organized.
“Organized retail crime poses significant safety risks to both store employees and consumers and it leads to the sale of both stolen and counterfeit goods,” TPS Board Chair Ann Morgan said at a news conference Tuesday to kick off a new Crime Stoppers awareness campaign.
Morgan said that while many people think of high-end goods when they think of retail theft, the problem also includes items like baby formula, over the counter medications, and other health and beauty items, which can become a risk to individuals who purchase them off market.
Rui Rodrigues, executive advisor for the Retail Council of Canada, said that while traditional shoplifting is a problem, it typically involves individuals stealing single items for their own personal use. Increasingly, he said, stores are seeing individuals stealing large volumes of items for resale, sometimes at the behest of people operating illicit online storefronts where they can sell the stolen goods.
“Nobody needs to steal a case of baby formula if it's for their own personal consumption,” Rodrigues said.
He said stores have also seen an increasing amount of violence since the pandemic and that trend has continued.
“A shoplifting incident is not the same as a retail crime that carries assault or robbery, and we see more and more of that,” Rodrigues said. “So part of what we see growing as well with organized retail crime is a diversion in the way they operate. There are professional groups that steal and it is an enterprise. There are groups that are preying upon marginalized individuals across Canada.”
He said storefront workers — not just at large retailers with many locations — are seeing an “unprecedented” amount of violence.
Toronto Crime Stoppers Chair Sean Sportun said proceeds from the thefts often go toward funding other types of criminal activity as well.
“Organized retail theft is a lucrative, criminal enterprise and part of the business plan for gangs to fund other illegal activities,” Sportun said. “These individuals or groups present a significant threat to the safety of employees and the overall community”.
Rodrigues said his group would like to see amendments to the criminal code to differentiate between simple shoplifting and more organized and violent crimes targeting retail.
“It's not about shoplifting,” he said. “It's putting an emphasis on the criminals and the criminal organizations that are proliferating those types of crimes in our communities.”
Rodrigues said that heading into the holiday season, retail theft tends to target higher value gift items, but he's stressed that theft affects all retail sectors.
Asked whether the proliferation of self-checkouts has had anything to do with the rise in thefts, Rodrigues said retailers have been closely measuring the changes.
“So I think retailers will always try measures to make it more efficient to serve their customer in a more effective way. Sometimes that also means it opens them up to more risk,” he said.
He added that “when they see impacts, they're going to react and measure the effect it's having on them.”
A release from Crime Stoppers calls retail theft “a profitable criminal enterprise that costs Canadian retailers approximately $5 billion a year.”
However Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw said the impact goes beyond the businesses.
“These crimes are in fact costing all of us because they drive up the prices on products that we purchase on a regular basis,” Demkiw said. “Organized retail crime may not be something that the average person thinks about very often. However, it is a growing problem across Canada. And it impacts all of us in different ways.”
He said it's estimated that two out of every five organized retail crimes involve violence.
“These are not victimless crimes,” Demkiw said. “In some cases, they pose a significant risk to the safety of our communities, including employees in a retail sector, and consumers who may be present when these crimes occur.”
The Crime Stoppers campaign, ‘It Costs Us All – Organized Retail Crime Awareness Campaign,’ is trying to raise public awareness about retail theft heading into the holiday season and the group is advising anyone with information about retail theft and related criminal activity to contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS or at 222tips.com.
The campaign includes promotional posters, public service announcements, advertising and a social media campaign to educate the public.
The initiative was created by Toronto Crime Stoppers in collaboration with Toronto police, the Retail Council of Canada, GardaWorld and others.