Upstate NY Lawmakers Demand Task Force For Organized Retail Thefts
A trio of state lawmakers from Central New York are urging the governor to sign off on legislation creating an organized retail crime task force, saying it's become burden for big box stores, and threatens to put small, locally owned shops out of business.
The bill was passed by both the Senate and Assembly last session, but has sat unsigned on Governor Kathy Hochul's desk since session ended nearly two months ago.
Senator Joe Griffo (R-Rome), and Assembly members Marianne Buttenschon (D - Marcy) and Brian Miller (R- New Hartford) were joined by Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente outside of Chanatry's Hometown Market in South Utica asking for Hochul to sign the bill into law.
It would establish a Task Force designed to make recommendations to law enforcement on how to enforce existing laws, review what is already on the books, make recommendations to help prevent retail theft and address the economic impact to businesses.
The group cited a 2022 Retail Security Survey that estimated losses upwards of $100 billion dollars to the retail market across the U.S. They say the COVID-19 pandemic and previous mask requirements, along with knowledge of laws that restrict the severity of criminal charges one can face have resulted in criminal groups feeling comfortable enough to walk-in to retail stores, grab items off the shelves and simply walk out.
In many instances, said Mark Chanatry - owner of Chanatry's - many of the thefts are occurring at the hands of the same people, saying the organized and persistent offenders routinely are arrested for stealing goods from stores across Central New York.
Further, he called for a lowering of the threshold that separates misdemeanors from felonies.
"They know if they walk out with a cart full of $900 worth of groceries, it's a misdemeanor," Chanatry said. "I'd like to see it lowered to $500," he added.
The lawmakers are also pushing other measures to curb the thefts, including a small business coalition to provide better networking among business owners, and possibly providing state funds to help bolster security, especially for mom-and-pop-type businesses that don't have the resources to fend off the offenders.
However, the group said Hochul's signature on the task force legislation is a first step in addressing the growing issue that threatens to force some businesses to shutter for good.