Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody held a news conference Tuesday with state lawmakers to announce legislative efforts to help law enforcement and prosecutors dismantle retail theft rings.
It appears Moody is looking to make sure current state laws are strong enough to punish people who are involved in organized retail theft.
The news conference comes ahead of Florida’s 2022 legislative session, which begins next week, and after Moody last month launched the Florida Organized Retail Crime Exchange — a task force and database that helps law enforcement, prosecutors and retailers work together to identify organized retail theft rings by allowing shareable, searchable information on theft incidents statewide.
“To help bolster the effectiveness of FORCE, the Florida Attorney General’s Office will partner with state legislators this session to seek to remove barriers to prosecution for what is clearly organized criminal activity,” Moody’s office said in a news release. “Upcoming legislation will provide a targeted revision to current statutes determining the felony status for retail theft when someone steals multiple items from multiple locations in a short period of time. These changes would strengthen the laws on the books to allow prosecutors to bring stronger penalties against criminals who commit crimes across the state to avoid justice.”
According to the 2021 Retail Security Survey, about 69% of retailers said they had seen an increase in organized retail crime activity over the past year.
“We’ve seen the damage and disorder caused by brazen criminals across the country through terrifying smash-and-grab robberies, and we must continue to innovate to stay ahead of this national crime trend,” Moody said. “Last month, I launched FORCE to bolster our efforts to stop and prevent organized retail crime in Florida and this legislative session, I will partner with state legislators to make sure our laws are effective in helping law enforcement and prosecutors stop retail theft gangs from targeting our stores.”
Right before Christmas, the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office announced the arrests of 16 people during “Operation Bad Santa.” According to the Sheriff’s Office, some of the people arrested were working together to pull off thefts at the outlets near St. Augustine during the holiday shopping season. That’s an example of what Moody is trying to crack down on.
Christine Khanna, owner of Insight -- a Jacksonville boutique -- is elated to hear about the initiative.
“We have been hit twice by organized crime here in Jacksonville and it has taken its toll,” Khanna said.
Khanna says on both occasions, surveillance video showed multiple people entering the store at the same time. Some of them would keep her employees busy on one side of the store while one of the thieves would crawl behind the jewelry counter and start swiping everything in sight.
“And quickly depart while the other people still had my staff occupied,” she said.
What they stole, Khanna said, was worth approximately $10,000 on the first theft and about $7,500 the second time.
In response to both thefts, Khanna had to reconfigure the store so that she and her employees did not have any obstructed views.
But it’s not just her store that has been targeted. She says every store in the shopping plaza has also been hit.
Khanna said Jacksonville police did eventually capture who was involved in the heist of nearly $10,000 worth of jewelry.
They were all convicted and ordered to pay restitution. Unfortunately, she said, she never got any of that merchandise back, nor did she receive full restitution because the thieves could not afford to pay what they owed.
To learn more about FORCE, click here.