PHOENIX – Arizona House Speaker Ben Toma hopes that HB 2435 will crack down on the increase in organized retail crime in Arizona.
At a news conference Tuesday at the Capitol, Toma, a Republican who is sponsoring the bill, emphasized “getting tough” and holding criminals accountable.
The legislation, which is headed to the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday, sets up harsher sentencing for repeat offenders. In the three sentencing tiers, prison terms would range from three months to 12.5 years in the lowest tier to 2.5 to 35 years in the highest tier.
Organized retail crime refers to individuals and groups stealing merchandise or engaging in fraud as part of a larger criminal enterprise, according to the Arizona Organized Retail Crime Association. The organization aims to share information among law enforcement and businesses.
A spike in the number of retail crimes has businesses and consumers concerned. According to the National Retail Federation, a number of retailers have been affected by organized retail crime and worry about the increase in violence that comes with the planned thefts. NRF’s National Retail Security Survey found the average shrink rate – a retail loss measurement – increased from 1.4% in 2021 to 1.6% in 2022.
“We send the message that’s very clear, that in Arizona we’re not going to tolerate this. I would think that most of my colleagues are going to be open to this because, again, we’re not talking about one-off shoplifting here; we’re talking about organized retail theft,” Toma said.
Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell and Michelle Ahlmer, executive director for the Arizona Retailers Association, joined Toma at the news conference to tout the benefits of the bill.
The trio said business owners are becoming discouraged with the amount of theft they are experiencing. Ahlmer said having something as inexpensive as toothpaste in a lockbox is what some retailers have resorted to in order to prevent organized retail crime and allow customers to find the items they need. When things are stolen, consumers are less likely to find the things on their shopping list and may have to go to other retailers.
“A community without retail, is not a full community,” Ahlmer said, noting businesses want to make things accessible for customers.
Mitchell said retail cooperation is key to making the bill successful as the crimes grow in frequency and severity.
“One case we just recently prosecuted was sentenced on Friday, where the defendant took $36,000 worth of merchandise from several stores over the course of a few days,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said a huge benefit of the bill is “more leeway in sentencing” for prosecutors.