The Maricopa County attorney held a news conference at Fry’s supermarket in north Phoenix on Wednesday to highlight organized retail crime.
“This is not the same thing as shoplifting,” Rachel Mitchell said while customers shopped nearby. “Organized retail crime is theft for resale, not for personal use.”
Mitchell said the theft is leading to inconvenience for shoppers and increased prices, and she vowed to continue prosecuting the “career criminals” from Arizona and out of state who she said were committing many of the crimes.
So far in 2023, Mitchell said her office has received 300 submittals from law enforcement for organized retail crimes, and she expected that number to increase during the holiday shopping season.
Mitchell said she would advocate at the Arizona Legislature for changes to laws that would allow for more prosecutions and harsher punishment for repeat offenders.
According to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office online data dashboard, the county is experiencing a potential uptick in organized retail theft after a downturn in recent years. The office received 387 referrals for organized retail theft in 2020, 331 referrals in 2021 and 306 referrals in 2022.
Area of crime:More thefts are reported at this Phoenix shopping center than anywhere else in the city
Michelle Ahlmer, executive director of the Arizona Retailers Association, said the perpetrators of organized retail theft were a “mobile, traveling group, doing damage wherever they go.”
Mitchell said her office would continue to aggressively prosecute organized retail theft, including consolidating multiple, smaller misdemeanor thefts committed by one person so they can be charged as felonies.
“Just recently, we sent somebody to prison for … three years, who owed $18,000 worth of restitution to a variety of retailers, because we were able to put those different cases together,” Mitchell said.
The cost of incarcerating someone in a public Arizona prison for a single year, based on an average daily per capita cost of $78, is more than $28,000.
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Mitchell said she believes more aggressive prosecution tactics will have a deterrent effect.
“Phoenix certainly has its share of it,” Mitchell said of organized retail crime, but the city is not seeing it to the same degree as other major cities. “I would attribute that in part at least to, we’re holding people accountable here.”