New York CNN
Authorities say a local Victoria's Secret loses $30,000 per month due to theft. Cabela's is reported to have lost more merchandise in the country than any other retailer. Some people might think they're in San Francisco, Chicago, or New York. They are in Wichita.
Retailers across the nation are on edge because of a pattern of thefts, not just petty incidents but also more serious and brazen heists that target everything from expensive luxuries to common products. Some cities, like San Francisco are closing their stores and blaming crime.
Not only big coastal cities are affected by this problem. The Midwest is home to a thriving, mid-sized city that's known for its entrepreneurial history, including the presence of Pizza Hut and The Coleman Co. Retail theft has become a serious problem in this area.
The Wichita Police Department’s Property Crimes Bureau is headed by Captain Casey Slaughter.
Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach is a Republican. He said that retail crime in Kansas was a "spiraling" problem. Kansas and Missouri, he added, were among the 10 most violent states in America. Kansas lost $642 million worth of stolen goods by 2021, according to Kobach.
People are frustrated. In an interview with CNN, he stated that store employees were frustrated.
Kobach, Kansas' governor, says that drugs, and especially fentanyl, are fueling a new scourge in Kansas.
Kobach, in June, told lawmakers that there was a connection between organized retail crime and drug trafficking. The organized retail crime problem is not getting better, but worse. It does not occur in a vacuum. These criminal enterprises overlap often with drug trafficking.
Local theft by national chains
Joe Sullivan, the chief of Kansas' largest police force, provided shocking statistics in April about retail crime in Kansas’ largest city. The city is home to almost 400,000 people. Sullivan, who spoke at a meeting with the Sedgwick County Board of Commissioners in April, said that some of the most popular retail chains located in Wichita were among the worst-hit stores nationally by retail theft.
Sullivan stated during the meeting that he had spoken to some of our biggest retailers and found out that some of their Wichita stores were their biggest problem. These are national chains and some of the stores in Wichita had the highest rates of retail theft, either nationally or regionally.
He said that a Victoria's Secret in Wichita was losing tens thousands of dollars per month due to theft. Sullivan also said that Cabela's (which sells sporting and outdoor goods) ranked its Wichita location as the number one store in the country for theft.
Victoria's Secret didn't make a specific comment about theft in its Wichita location, but stated that "the safety of our employees and customers has always been our number one priority" in a CNN statement. We take theft very seriously, and we work closely with the authorities to conduct these investigations. Shoplifters will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Cabela's has not responded to a comment request. Sullivan's Office also cited Dick's Sporting Goods and Academy Sports and Outdoors in the city as the leading stores for thefts in the region. Both retailers failed to respond to requests for comments.
Lego sets, power tools, clothing, jewelry
Slaughter reported that retail crime in Wichita is up 34% this year compared to the same period last year and 35% over a five-year median.
Slaughter noted that high-priced clothing and Lego sets are among the most commonly reported stolen items by retailers. Other items include beauty and cosmetics, sporting goods, tools and power tools. Tide detergent is also often cited as a top item for shoplifting in the country.
He said that because most retailers have non-intervention policies in place to protect their employees and customers, thieves take advantage of this and "basically take anything that can quickly be carried out of the shop."
Slaughter explained that the stolen goods are often sold on online marketplaces and in smaller local stores for quick profits.
According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), the'shrinkage' of merchandise, or the value lost due to theft, fraud and damage, cost retailers $94.5 Billion in 2021. This is up 4% compared to $90.8 Billion in 2020. Nearly half of this loss was attributed to large-scale theft.
Some groups, however, have pushed back against the concerns of retail theft. They point out that it can be difficult to get consistent data and that employee theft as well as other factors may play a part in missing inventory.
Walgreens executives have suggested that the company may have overstated its impact on retail theft.
The bipartisan INFORM Act came into force on Tuesday and gave the retail industry some leverage to stop the online sale of counterfeits and stolen items. The new law mandates that online marketplaces collect, verify, and disclose information about third-party sellers, including their bank account numbers, tax ID numbers, and contact details. This makes it more difficult for counterfeiters and thieves to sell products.
The grip of drug addiction is tight
Slaughter, a Wichita-based store owner, said that many stores hired off-duty officers to increase security. However, he believes the thefts continue because of the root causes.
He said that drug addiction had gotten worse. We find drug paraphernalia almost every time we catch a suspect. We are shocked when we do not find it.
Kansas is facing a serious problem with fentanyl abuse.
Kansas had the second-largest percentage increase of drug overdoses in the country in 2021. Most overdoses involved fentanyl – a synthetic opioid 50 to 100x more potent than heroin or morphine.
According to county data, the number of drug-related deaths among Sedgwick residents has increased by 91% between 2015 and 2020.
Marc Bennett, the district attorney for Sedgwick county, stated that individuals who are desperate to feed addictions turn to crime. This includes being recruited by criminal organizations behind organized retail crime sprees. The organized retail crime model is a pure profit-making business, with no overhead costs, rent or product costs. He said, 'It's all about pure profit.
He said that there is a vulnerable population around Wichita who are unhoused and/or suffering from mental illness. There's an opportunity to take advantage of people who are desperate enough to join these criminal enterprises.
Harold Casey closely tracks the drug crisis across 29 counties of Kansas, including Wichita.
Casey is the CEO of SACK, a Wichita based non-profit that specializes in prevention, treatment and management of substance abuse. Casey's organization helps 800 to 900 people a year at hospitals in Wichita, and 1,200 in jails in Sedgwick County. It also works with homeless shelters.
He said, "Most of our customers are unemployed, uninsured and homeless."
He said that the growing number of teenagers who are addicted to drugs is most concerning. Casey said that in Wichita there are a large number of teens who die from overdoses. He said that parents often mention a common pattern: their child is connected to a dealer via social media, and then gets drugs.
He said that fentanyl was the drug of preference because it is cheap and accessible.
She is 35 years old, a mother, and addicted to shoplifting.
Scott Poor, an attorney in Wichita, is constantly dealing with clients who are involved in theft of property. He said that there are many cases of thefts from stores, garages, and self-storage facilities. The majority of cases involve drug-related property crimes.
He remembers a particular client, one who is still with him.
Poor said, 'She is a young woman in her early 30s, and has a serious fentanyl problem.' Last September, his client was accused of shoplifting three days in a row from a local home and ranch goods store. Each time she stole bulk cases.
She doesn't like shooting sports. She is a fentanyl addict. She is a mother who lost her children to Children and Family Services.
Poor claims that his client shoplifted on the same date from both an Ulta and Victoria's Secret. Poor said that his client stole products worth $477.32 from Ulta Beauty and $322.59 from Victoria's Secret on the same day. They got her on camera.
Poor was in court with his client on Monday. He said she had a black-eyed look.
Poor says that his clients who commit high-value thefts are not stealing essentials like diapers and bread. He said that they are looking for items to sell quickly at pawnshops, or other places where they can make a lot of money. If it's not drug use, they're looking for money to pay their rent.
Kobach, the attorney general of Kansas, told CNN that he spoke to an employee from Walgreens recently who was angry about thieves targeting her store repeatedly. He said that she violated the company's policy by trying to stop the thieves and following them. However, it was out of concern for the store's or neighborhood's reputation.
Kobach gave testimony in early June before the House Judiciary Committee on "Organized Retail Crimes and Threats to Public Safety."
He told lawmakers that Kansas was not the first state to come to mind when thinking about organized retail crime. Kansas is a good example for two reasons. First, it is one of those states that has been hit the hardest. Second, we are trying to find solutions other states haven't tried yet.
Kobach stated in his testimony that one of the reasons organized retail crime has exploded in Kansas is due to the fact that many cases are not prosecuted. There is a lack of prosecutors in many counties.
He also stated that serial thieves "almost always steal an amount of money just below the level of felony theft." In Kansas, they steal about $900 in order to stay under the $1,000 threshold.
A new Kansas law that will take effect on 1 July would give the AG of Kansas more authority to prosecute organized retail crime rings. He said that the new law will make Kansas the nation's first state to grant the AG's office the original prosecutorial power in cases where criminal conduct takes place in more than one county.
In his testimony, he said that this allowed my prosecutors the opportunity to prosecute cases using state resources when a county or district attorneys did not have enough capacity.
Kobach said that the more we tolerate such crimes, the more they will degrade our society. "That's not a society we want to be in."