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Alabama adds teeth to retail theft law

The scenes play out in cities across the country: Brazen criminals walking into stores and stealing everything within reach.

These acts constitute a $100 billion problem in the United States — especially when organized.

A law headed to Gov. Kay Ivey’s desk would add teeth to help Alabama enforce retail crimes and punish the criminals.

Proposed and passed by the Senate last month and the House today, the Retail Theft Crime Prevention Act outlines two new offenses: Retail theft and organized retail theft.

The first addresses obscure shoplifting moves such as altering price tags and stealing shopping carts.

The second, organized retail theft, ranges from groups manipulating antitheft devices to using stolen or rental vehicles for theft.

“The theft has gotten so bad that they’re shutting down and they’re passing that cost onto us,” Rep. Allen Treadaway (R-Birmingham) said. “We’re paying for it, citizens are paying for it, taxpayers are paying for it.

“We’re all paying for it. It’s gotten so organized, this bill goes to address that.”

The Alabama Retail Association commended the Alabama District Attorneys Association and the bill’s sponsors saying the law “will help put retail thieves behind bars while also punishing them financially.” 

Treadaway, the bill’s sponsor in the House, is a longtime Birmingham police officer and former assistant police chief. He said shoplifting laws can’t account for the scale and complexity of unsettling trends.

“There’s no enforcement in there,” he said. “There’s no teeth in the current law.”

The act says retail theft is committed when a person uses various means to steal, including concealing merchandise, altering or removing price tag, failing to scan items or otherwise pay for items at self-checkout registers, and other means.

If signed by Ivey, penalties will increase for individuals who shoplift items between the value of $500 and $1,500.

Under the law, first-degree retail theft would be defined as theft of goods in excess of $2,500, or theft of one or more items totaling $1,000 or more within a 180-day period. It also includes the theft of any firearm, regardless of its value. This first-degree theft is classified as a Class B felony. On the other hand, theft of goods exceeding $500 but not exceeding $2,500 is considered second-degree retail theft.

Some of those felony theft charges will be punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

It comes with an added punch: Restitution.

Those convicted can also be ordered to make restitution to the victim and even cover costs incurred by law enforcement during the investigation and prosecution.

An annual report by the National Retail Federation identified organized retail theft reached $94.5 billion in 2021 — up from $90.8 billion from 2020. Retailers saw an average 26.5% increase in incidents over the previous year that came along with an increase in violent and aggressive incidents.

Grayson Everett is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @Grayson270 for coverage of the 2023 legislative session.

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