ALBANY — Five leading New York City chambers of commerce are joining retail workers and store owners in calling on lawmakers to pass a trio of bills that would increase penalties for shoplifters.
The business-oriented organizations are backing Collective Action to Protect our Stores, or CAPS, a coalition of store owners and workers lobbying for legislation that would make assaulting a retail employee or shop owner a violent felony and bail-eligible offense.
Other bills in the package would crack down on the online resale of stolen items and boost punishment for repeat shoplifters..
“New Yorkers want to be able to go to their retail stores in peace and they want the workers there to be protected,” Jessica Walker, the president and CEO of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement.
Walker called the proposals “common sense policy solutions that can get the job done.”
Leaders from chambers representing Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island and Brooklyn also joined the push.
The measure upping penalties for assault, sponsored by Sen. Jessica Scarcella-Spanton (D-Staten Island) and Assemblyman Manny De Los Santos (D-Manhattan), would make an attack on a retail worker a Class D felony, meaning judges would be able to impose bail on suspects.
The bill thus would put assaults on store workers in the same category as assaults on cops, firefighters, livery drivers and MTA employees.
Earlier this month, an employee at a Bronx supermarket was attacked by a pair of suspected shoplifters — just days after a Manhattan bodega clerk was shot to death by a masked gunman.
Nelson Eusebio of Collective Action to Protect Our Stores welcomed the backing from the chamber leaders and called on lawmakers to pass legislation he believes could deter similar attacks.
“Local economies can’t thrive when retail theft is an issue, which is why we need our leaders in Albany to step up and pass legislation that will keep our stores safe and let consumers shop in peace,” Eusebio said.
CAPS represents roughly 10,000 stores across the state, including supermarkets and bodegas across the five boroughs.
A second measure aimed at cracking down on stolen items being sold online would create the offense of fostering the sale of stolen goods. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, both Manhattan Democrats, would make it a class A misdemeanor to knowingly sell stolen goods online.
The third bill supported by the group, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Thomas (D-Nassau) and Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-Bronx), would make petit larceny a felony if committed within two years of a previous conviction.
Shoplifting and other crimes spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic in New York, prompting Mayor Adams and others to call for an overhaul of the state’s bail system. Reforms implemented in 2019 eliminated cash bail for most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies.
Critics have blamed the reforms for upticks in crime despite scant evidence showing a correlation.
Adams earlier this month also called on shoppers to remove masks, which many New Yorkers still wear to prevent catching coronavirus, when entering city businesses in a bid to reduce shoplifting.
Recent NYPD and state statistics show that, overall, crime is on the decline. According to police officials, burglaries dropped 15% and robberies were down 11% last month compared to February 2022.
A group of legal defense groups and advocates issued a joint memo pushing back on the shoplifting-focused bills earlier this week — arguing that changing the bail laws or increasing penalties will “not address the problem, and only cause greater harm.”
The legal defense groups — which include the Neighborhood Defender Services of Harlem, the Bronx Defenders, the New York Civil Liberties Union, Brooklyn Defenders, Citizen Action and the Legal Aid Society — said that instead of overhauling penalties, lawmakers should focus on using the budget to strengthen the social safety net by boosting supportive housing, support for victims and survivors and evidence-backed harm reduction.
“Everyone has a right to be safe and no one should fear going to work. However, changing state laws to jail more Black, Brown and low-income people won’t meaningfully protect retail stores or workers,” the Bronx Defenders said in a statement. “Most people arrested for petty theft are struggling with poverty, mental health issues, drug use, or all three.”
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