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Luxury retail stores, such as the one shown above, have been targeted by ORC rings. Photo from Pixabay.

Organized retail crime, a nationwide retail theft phenomenon, has reached Suffolk County.

Last week, four individuals from Newark, New Jersey, were arrested by the Suffolk County Police Department for their alleged involvement in an ORC ring that stole $94,000 worth of luxury handbags from a Balenciaga store in East Hampton on March 3. Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney (R) held a press conference shortly after the arrests were made, announcing that those responsible for the theft will be prosecuted.

Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney (R), above, addressed the recent spike of organized retail crime in the area. Photo from Tierney’s office.

“The individuals in East Hampton, they stole $94,000 worth of bags and they were going to sell that on the secondary market, and they were going to make tens of thousands of dollars in profit,” Tierney said. “The purpose of last week’s press conference was to let people know we are paying attention and we are going to address it because, ultimately, the people who bear the costs of that theft are the consumers, the citizens of Suffolk County who have to pay increased prices for everything.”

ORC refers to the coordinated shoplifting carried out by professional theft rings. According to Tierney, there are stark differences between ORC and ordinary shoplifting.

“We’re trying to separate retail theft from these organized retail theft rings,” he said. “While we’re taking all retail thefts seriously, we want to put special emphasis on the organized retail theft rings, where individuals come in and they’re en masse stealing large amounts of merchandise with the specific purpose of reselling it on the secondary market for profit.”

Gus Downing is publisher and editor of The D&D Daily, an online publication that follows retail trends and raises public awareness for these issues. According to him, ORC has proliferated in recent years due to the rise of the online resale marketplace.

“Organized retail crime has been around a long time, but the internet and third-party selling online is really what took this into the stratosphere,” he said in a phone interview. “When you look at the internet and third-party sellers, and then you tack on the opioid epidemic and the cartels flooding the United States with fentanyl, and then you tack on the surge in crime generically, you’ve got a heck of a problem that is spiraling out of control.”

Downing said that a considerable proportion of mainstream opioid users require a revenue stream to finance their habit. According to him, ORC and drugs are inextricably linked together.

“It’s really all about drugs,” he said. “That’s what drives a person into a store to steal. They have to get the money, and what’s the easiest place to get it when you have millions of people online that would love a deal?”

Tierney has not yet noticed a connection between ORC and drugs in the area. According to him, large returns appear to be motivating the spike in ORC-related incidents throughout the county.

“There’s the sector of the population that are addicted to drugs — they might have mental health issues, and in a sort of ad hoc, unorganized manner they steal things for subsistence and whatever meager money they make goes to drugs or they’re stealing for food,” he said, adding, “Those people from the organized rings, I don’t see drugs and drug addiction being a factor in that. I see it being a profit margin.”

“Those organized gangs, they prey on the most vulnerable people in our society.”

— Barbara Staib, director of development and communications at The National Association for Shoplifting Prevention

Shoplifting education

The National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, based in Huntington Station, is an organization that works to curb retail-related thefts through education. According to Barbara Staib, director of development and communications at NASP, shoplifters can be separated into two categories: professional and nonprofessional.

“While not all shoplifters are involved in ORC, anybody who is involved in ORC is a shoplifter,” she said in a phone interview. “People don’t just jump right into being involved in organized gangs. They started as a shoplifter.”

According to its website, NASP offers online courses for adults and juveniles who need to complete a theft class as required by a court or probation officer. Staib suggested that programs such as these help to reduce recidivism of retail theft crimes, which in turn can deter recruitment into ORC rings.

Staib said NASP works with nonprofessional shoplifters. According to her, these individuals are often the most vulnerable to the predatory recruitment tactics of ORC ringleaders.

“Those organized gangs, they prey on the most vulnerable people in our society,” she said. “They prey on people that are homeless, people who are drug addicted, people who are perhaps in a bad place in their lives and need money.” She added, “From a societal point of view, ORC is very damaging.”

Tierney acknowledged the need to treat retail theft incidents in a case-by-case manner. He said the county offers various programs, such as Stoplift, for first-time offenders. However, he added that those who follow a pattern of criminal behavior will be held responsible for their actions.

“The people who stole the $94,000 worth of bags were not first-time offenders,” he said. “Those repeat offenders who are enriching themselves are completely different from first-time shoplifters,” adding, “Of course, we’re going to treat the first-time shoplifter a lot different than we are with those organized theft rings.”

Staib finds a silver lining through programs such as NASP that educate shoplifters. While she considers ORC a dangerous crime trend that requires strict penalties, she views shoplifting education as a way to counter the spread of ORC.

“We need to approach [shoplifting] in two different ways,” Staib said. “We need to approach ORC as a felony crime that meets harsh punishment.” Discussing ways to address nonprofessional shoplifting, she added, “Our message is that education is valuable at any point for someone who shoplifts.”

To learn more about the shoplifting education programs offered by NASP, visit the website www.shopliftingprevention.org.