As Chair of the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research, and Economic Development Committee (LCRED), and as a member of the committee for the four years I served in the House of Representatives, I have had the opportunity to delve into many issues that affect businesses and the economy in Maine.
One of the concerns of the business community in Maine that has come to my attention through that work is organized retail crime. This crime is hurting businesses – businesses which employ many Mainers – and we must take steps to prevent it. That’s why I have introduced LD 310, “An Act to Prevent Organized Retail Crime.” Though it is not in front of the LCRED, but in front of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, this legislation is directly linked to helping Maine’s business community. This crime is estimated to cost Maine $150 million each year, and Hannaford, JC Penney, Reny’s, Rite Aid, and Cabela’s have all expressed support for my legislation.
Organized retail crime is not simple shoplifting. It’s not a teenager grabbing a candy bar or pair of jeans, but is groups of criminals who come out of Boston, Lowell, Providence, and New York City to work their way across Maine stealing large quantities of retail goods to resell. LD 310 would increase the penalties for those caught engaging in such well-oiled crimes. New Hampshire created a new category of theft with increased penalties to combat organized retail crime and has actually seen incidents decrease as a result.
Under current law, retail theft is defined simply by the dollar value of what is stolen with no regard for what is stolen or the method used in the theft. Also under current law, a theft of under $1,000 is a simple misdemeanor, whether someone stole a few cans of baby formula or an entire shelf of Crest White Strips. The legislation would make using fake receipts or swapping UPC codes a possible Class C felony. It would also make stealing a possible Class C felony if two or more people are acting in concert to commit the crime.
Both law enforcement and district attorneys would still have the authority to make the determination of whether to prosecute at a higher level or as a simple shoplifting misdemeanor. LD 310 would give us the tools to better prevent this organized gang activity, to prosecute these crimes aggressively when justified, and to use this statute as an additional deterrent.
This is not the first time the Criminal Justice Committee has looked at legislation to address organized retail crime, but changing Maine’s Criminal Code is not something the committee takes lightly. At a recent work session on the bill, I was heartened by the response of committee members, who seem to be on board with the idea that now is the right time to act on the issue. The legislation was tabled so the Criminal Law Advisory Commission can review the language. I am hopeful that this year we will be able to pass my legislation and take action to curb this crime.
Editors note: A previous version of this article contained a a stock photograph of a person shoplifting. The person in the photograph had a military uniform on under a jacket, and The Maine Wire staff did not recognize that as it was posted. When it was brought to our attention, we took down the photo and replaced it with another stock photo. Senator Amy Volk was not involved in the selection of the photo in question. Obviously we at The Maine Wire have the utmost respect for our men and women in uniform, and would never seek to defame military service in any way, this was a simple oversight and we apologize for the error.