Jul 26, 2023 - Business

Seattle council discusses ideas to reduce organized retail theft

Illustration of a burglar in a ski mask holding a giant sack

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Within the past year, more than half of Washington state retailers have reported an increase in theft, resulting in $2.7 billion in estimated losses in the state, according to a new report from the Seattle Office of City Auditor.

Driving the news: Members of the City Council's Public Safety and Human Services committee this week discussed the report, requested by Councilmembers Andrew Lewis and Lisa Herbold and released last week. The report cited a survey ranking Seattle eighth in the nation in 2021 among cities impacted by organized retail theft.

By the numbers: Last year, the city tallied 13,103 calls to the Seattle Police Department from the top 100 retail locations in the city, the majority of which related to retail theft, the report found.

  • Responding to those calls cost police officers 18,615 hours of time — the equivalent of a year's worth of work by nine full-time officers.
  • The numbers for the first quarter of 2023 do not include thefts from some large downtown retailers who use private security guards and off-duty officers instead of calling police.

What's next: The report offers several suggestions for addressing organized retail crime, including better collaboration between state and federal agencies and exploring new uses of technology, such as video interviews with retail victims.

  • Such types of interviews, the report says, are significantly faster than typical patrol responses and deliver greater victim satisfaction.

What we're watching: The Washington Retail Association is calling for legislation that aims to increase public safety and reduce retail theft, Mark Johnson, the association's senior vice-president, told the committee.


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