How Md. retailers are responding to organized retail theft that has ‘become so serious’

In response to organized retail theft across the state, the Maryland Retailers Association is meeting with several jurisdictions to discuss solutions before the issue becomes so significant that stores consider closing.

Cailey Locklair, president of the Maryland Retailers Association, said the group met with Montgomery County leaders last week, and is addressing the organized theft “that has become so serious now” with other localities.

As a result of the thefts, Locklair said, some stores are closing and others are considering extra precautions. Some are locking up certain items, checking receipts at entrances and creating one entry and exit point.

Certain stores are also considering extra security, she said.

The issues aren’t exclusive to Maryland, either. A Giant store in Southeast D.C. has added cameras and armed security guards along with making the decision to stop carrying items such as Tide detergent, Colgate toothpaste and Advil.

“(Retail theft) is not unique to Montgomery County,” Locklair said. “It’s happening across the country.”

WTOP has contacted Montgomery County police for data on retail thefts but hasn’t heard back.

A Giant spokesman said he didn’t have information about Giant stores in Maryland, but said the Southeast D.C. store “has reached a threshold of theft and violence that has become unsustainable.”

“We will continue to evaluate all of our stores as we do today and determine what the most appropriate actions are for each,” Giant said in a statement.

A spokesman for Target, meanwhile, said, “The problem affects all of us, limiting product availability, creating a less convenient shopping experience and putting our team and guests in harm’s way.”

Stores such as Home Depot and Lowe’s are “huge targets,” Locklair said, and larger stores are being targeted in general. It’s particularly problematic, she said, because the large stores tend to serve as anchors for other nearby shops.

“When they talk about closing, you’re talking about tanking a massive shopping center,” Locklair said.

Some stores are adding off-duty or unmarked police cars outside, Locklair said, and the items that are often targeted may be locked up. That, she said, “is nothing a retailer ever wants to do. They never want to have to do that because it’s an inconvenience to the customer, it means they have to have more employees in the store, because then people are going to be like, ‘Hey, can I grab this box of razors behind this plastic case?'”

“You’re not going to see it everywhere,” Locklair said. “But certainly in areas where there’s higher levels of stuff going on, you’ll start to see some of these things.”

Geography also plays a role, Locklair said, because Maryland is “on the [Interstate] 95 corridor, so people-traffic goes up and down constantly. We’re obviously in a state with a port.”

In addition to considering prevention measures, Locklair said legislation that would aggregate theft across jurisdictions could help deter retail crimes.

“Professional thieves and folks involved in organized retail crime jump store to store,” Locklair said. “They do not care about county lines. They have lists of certain items that have value, and typically a higher value, they target those items and then steal them.”

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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