In a guest appearance on “The Morning Drive” radio show this week, the executive director of the Vermont Retail & Grocers Association said retail theft is a top concern for the many businesses her organization represents.
“It continues to be a growing issue,” Erin Sigrist, the group’s executive director told show host Kurt Wright. “Again, not just in Chittenden County — I’m hearing from people down in Bennington, down in Springfield, down in Chester, you know what I mean … small towns.”
Wright said he thought it was important to discuss retail theft because “obviously, it continues to be a big issue.”
Failed legislative efforts
“[Retail theft] is tough to identify, it is so multi-faceted,” Sigrist said. “I will give a shoutout — the Senate Judiciary Committee a couple of years ago did consider including different regulations or different laws that would hopefully crack down on organized retail crime.”
However, the committee’s attempts to pass measures were unsuccessful, she added.
In particular, Sigrist cited problems in Burlington, and noted discussions she held with business owners in the downtown shopping district.
“We have continuous conversations with our friends on Church Street,” she said. “I just had another interaction with a business in downtown Burlington. It’s a constant discussion. I think we also need to be supporting our police officers. I think that it’s not just demoralizing for retail employees or retail management, it’s also demoralizing when our prosecutors aren’t prosecuting.
“And what’s the point of going after these guys if they are just going to give him a slap on the wrist and then throwing them back on the street. … It’s much larger than just one organization, it’s everybody [getting hurt by thefts].”
Wright suggested that the lack of consequences for crime is contributing to the issue.
“Don’t you feel that … if there are not consequences, people are going to figure this out, and they just know that they can steal with impunity?”
“These people are smart. They know what the consequences are,” she said. “They know what the threshold is [the penalties relative to how much they steal], and they go just under that threshold and they walk out the door and walk into the next store — and it’s a general practice for them.”
One caller to the program said the solution needs to be more than hiring new security guards or trying to make customers feel safe.
“Until we actually can mobilize an effort to change the penalty laws for shoplifting, particularly these major shop-lifting rings, nothing is going to change,” the unidentified caller said. “It’s just disgusting out there — it’s so demoralizing for the staff and they don’t get paid enough as it is.”
The show can be heard online here.