Shoppers visiting the CVS Pharmacy at 14th and Irving streets NW in Washington recently must think they traveled back in time to the Soviet Union. The store’s shelves are bare. The refrigerator cases are devoid of food or beverages. When we visited, only sunscreen and greeting cards were on display. But the bizarre scene is not a result of a failed planned economy; rampant theft is the cause. Shoplifters ransacked this CVS over two days early last month, and it hasn’t been restocked since. Weeks later, there’s still hardly anything to buy — or steal.
The CVS at 14th and Irving symbolizes extreme retail theft and the harms it can engender. Distressing and inconvenient to ordinary people, threatening to businesses and livelihoods, and repellent to tourists, unchecked shoplifting can corrode a community’s spirit.
It’s happening in the nation’s capital. The D.C. police department does not track shoplifting specifically but reports that theft in general is up 22 percent over last year. It is harder and harder to find a grocery or pharmacy in the District that doesn’t lock up laundry detergent, toilet paper and deodorant. A Giant in Southeast no longer even stocks certain name-brand health and beauty products that thieves target. A liquor store downtown is closing because of constant shoplifting. The H Street Walmart shuttered earlier this year. (The company said the store “hasn’t performed as well as we hoped.”)
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The District ranks behind all but one state for retail theft, according to a new Forbes Advisor survey of small businesses. The situation in D.C. is emblematic of a national experience. The National Retail Federation recently reported a “dramatic jump” in stores’ financial losses between 2021 and 2022 — from $93.9 billion to $112.1 billion.
The best new impartial look at shoplifting trends is a recent report by the nonpartisan Council on Criminal Justice. The CCJ’s innovative methodology analyzed police records in 24 cities that track retail theft closely and found a mixed but troubling picture. As of mid-June, New York and Los Angeles saw surges of more than 60 percent compared with 2019, while the phenomenon has ebbed elsewhere.
To be sure, some theft has always been a cost of doing business for retailers. Kids grab the occasional candy bar; desperate parents sneak out with some extra diapers; workers swipe items during delivery and stocking. This is why many places in the United States, including D.C., make stealing less than $1,000 worth of goods a misdemeanor, not a felony.
What appears different now is the prevalence of organized, flagrant shoplifting — thieves sweep goods off shelves and resell them online or on the street. A new federal law, the Inform Consumers Act, requires online marketplaces to better track where third-party sellers get their merchandise. (One such marketplace, Amazon, was founded by Post owner Jeff Bezos; interim Post CEO Patty Stonesifer is on Amazon’s board.) But the law took effect only in June so it’s too soon to gauge its impact.
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D.C. lacked sufficient data to be included in the CCJ report. That need for more granular data is the first thing the city and others like it should address. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) has proposed a new felony of “directing organized retail theft” with a penalty of up to 15 years in prison. It’s smart to target ringleaders. Ms. Bowser has also proposed that prosecutors be allowed to charge thieves with a felony if they steal 10 or more times in a 30-day period. It’s another wise deterrent.
A better legal framework won’t help much if it’s not aggressively enforced, though. We heard from a Columbia Heights shopper who witnessed a mass shoplifting and emailed CVS corporate headquarters about it. A regional manager responded that the problem was that police do not pursue cases when CVS reports them. (A CVS spokesperson declined to comment.) Meanwhile, D.C. Police Chief Pamela A. Smith keeps telling stores they have to report the theft. Police data shows only five reports of theft in the past two months on the Columbia Heights block where CVS stands. Even if police do make an arrest, it often does not lead to prosecution. The District’s U.S. attorney, Matthew M. Graves, declined to prosecute 56 percent of cases in the past fiscal year, an unusually high number relative to other cities’.
Seattle, one of the cities where CCJ found that shoplifting is lower now than it was five years ago, offers a good model. The city identified more than 160 “high utilizers” responsible for the vast majority of recent misdemeanors such as shoplifting. Police were able to put these individuals in jail when they were caught. To deter others, Seattle police conduct surprise one-day crackdowns that lead to about 50 arrests each. “The strongest predictor to reduced criminal behavior is the belief they will get caught,” said Ernesto Lopez, lead author of the Council on Criminal Justice’s shoplifting report. Occasional, but unpredictable, bursts of strict enforcement can deter shoplifters at minimal cost to police.
The District and other cities need to get smarter about how they attack this crime. Otherwise, even more retail stores might find themselves going back to the U.S.S.R.
The Post’s View | About the Editorial Board
Editorials represent the views of The Post as an institution, as determined through discussion among members of the Editorial Board, based in the Opinions section and separate from the newsroom.
Members of the Editorial Board: Opinion Editor David Shipley, Deputy Opinion Editor Charles Lane and Deputy Opinion Editor Stephen Stromberg, as well as writers Mary Duenwald, Christine Emba, Shadi Hamid, David E. Hoffman, James Hohmann, Heather Long, Mili Mitra, Eduardo Porter, Keith B. Richburg and Molly Roberts.
Inflatable rat looms over Washington Post union employees picketing during strike – WTOP News
Hundreds of Washington Post employees were not reporting the news on Thursday, instead they were picketing the newspaper outside of its K Street offices in D.C.
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Hundreds of Washington Post employees were not reporting the news on Thursday. Instead, they were picketing the newspaper outside of its K Street offices in D.C.
It comes as members of the Washington Post Guild strike for 24 hours after months of negotiations with the paper continue to fall short.
Katie Mettler is a local criminal justice reporter for the Post. She said the paper has been negotiating with the union in “bad faith” and the one-day strike is meant to bring attention to that fact.
“We would all much rather be doing our jobs today, the work we care deeply about, serving the people we care deeply about, but unfortunately, we had to take this historic move,” Mettler said.
The union represents not only reporters, but also editors, cartoonists, visual journalists, advertising salespeople and circulation drivers.
As the union workers picketed under the shadow of a giant inflatable rat, called “Scabby,” they chanted: “What do we want? Fair pay. When do we want it? Yesterday.”
The Post is owned by billionaire Jeff Bezos and, in a statement to WTOP, the publication said it respects the rights of Guild-covered workers to engage in the strike.
“We will make sure our readers and customers are as unaffected as possible. The Post’s goal remains the same as it has from the start of our negotiations: to reach an agreement with the Guild that meets the needs of our employees and the needs of our business,” a Post spokesperson said.
The union members said this is also about saving jobs, after the claim the papers is threatening layoffs if enough people don’t take “voluntary buyouts” which were offered to more than 200 employees.
“The Post is our local newspaper here in D.C. and the fact that almost the entire local staff got offered a buyout is, frankly, what everyone should be appalled at,” said Zainab Mudallal, an opinion editor at the paper.
Mudallal called on the publication to provide more mental health services to employees as well.
“The fact that the Post is not willing to budge on any sort of mental health resources for their employees is a shame,” Mudallal said. “I really do believe that [if] we’re asked to be strong and for us to report and edit and do what we need to do as journalists, we need to be invested in as well.”
For Post climate reporter Sarah Kaplan, she said the minimum pay being offered to entry level employees, such as copy aides, is “atrocious” and that many cannot live in D.C. with the salaries offered.
She said the strike is meant to give the company an idea of what it would be like without the employees, which she said are “the heart and soul” of The Washington Post.
“The company is feeling what it means to be without these employees,” she said. “The Post is nothing without us and we deserve a fair deal.”
Among those braving the cold to support the Post employees was the paper’s first Black female reporter Dorothy Butler Gilliam.
The crowd erupted into cheers when Gilliam told them, “You will win!”
DC Launches 24/7 Bus Service
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) announced it will expand Metrobus service to 24 hours a day on 14 bus routes starting December 17, according to an article in Mass Transit. “These high ridership routes on key corridors will predominantly support late-night and early-morning essential workers in hospitality, healthcare and entertainment industries.”
The expansion comes after an agreement with the District of Columbia brought more funding to WMATA. “WMATA says the 24/7 DC Bus Service will help support Washington, D.C.’s, growing economic vitality and diversity. Many of the selected bus routes run through the city’s late night hot spots and entertainment venues, providing those who enjoy the nightlife and late-night workers better transit options.” The new service will include ‘courtesy stops,’ letting passengers request to be let off between stops during nighttime hours.
54th Annual Washington Conference on the Americas
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The 54th Washington Conference on the Americas will feature keynote remarks and interviews with senior leaders along with high-level panel discussions.
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