Feb 15, 2024 - News

D.C. stores up security to fight widespread theft

People stand on a street corner outside a building with a Walgreens sign.

Photo: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images

As D.C. continues to struggle with crime, area stores are taking new measures to try to curtail widespread theft.

Why it matters: A spree of DMV retail thefts means empty shelves and heightened security in many stores, while residents are left frustrated and scared.

What's happening: Giant has increased store security, locked up and limited products, and, in some locations, reduced exits and started to use cameras to track items through registers, the company tells Axios.

  • It also has started receipt checks at its Alabama Ave. location in Southeast, "which has reached a threshold of theft and violence that has become unsustainable," a spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, Safeway has installed high-tech security gates at some of its D.C. stores, requiring customers to scan receipts before leaving.

  • Safeway confirmed in a statement to Axios that recent updates were made to some local stores to "maintain a safe and welcoming shopping experience" and "deter shoplifting."

The Capitol Riverfront BID is working with D.C. police and Navy Yard retailers and property owners to host monthly safety meetings, employ off-duty officers to patrol the area, and up security camera usage, according to a BID statement to Axios.

  • In Georgetown, businesses have hired off-duty police officers and security and installed security cameras, says a Georgetown BID spokesperson.
  • The Golden Triangle BID is hiring a safety and security coordinator — a position "newly created to address current needs" and support area businesses and property managers with crime prevention and safety, according to a statement shared with Axios.

Whole Foods, Foxtrot Market, Streets Market, Walgreens, CVS, and Target either declined to comment on security procedures or did not respond to requests for comment from Axios.

The big picture: 2023 saw a general crime surge in D.C., and it was the city's deadliest year in over two decades.

By the numbers: The District saw a 39% increase in violent crime between 2023 and 2022, and a 24% increase in property crime.

Reality check: As of Wednesday, D.C. violent crime and property crime are tracking slightly below the levels seen at this same time last year.

Yes, but: A slew of headline-making thefts is raising the alarm in several neighborhoods.

  • This week, a Chinatown Walgreens manager was arrested and charged with helping organize at least four armed robberies of the store since last summer, according to federal authorities, one of which resulted in a security guard shooting a suspect on Sunday.

Catch up fast: There have been reports of several recent heists at local Safeways, and a group recently used a "Jaws of Life" machine to rob ATMs at a series of stores, mostly 7-Elevens.

Last year, one group was seemingly connected to a spree of local thefts at spots like Ulta, Target, and Nike, said Montgomery County police, and there was a string of thefts at area CVS locations, with one resulting in a stabbing.

What we're watching: A huge crime bill that would change how the city manages policing and punishments — including making stealing from stores to resell items a felony — is currently moving through the D.C. Council.

  • And Mayor Muriel Bowser opened the city's first Safe Commercial Corridor Hub in Chinatown to keep the area "safe and clean," with more planned for U Street and Anacostia.
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