Some small business owners in New York City are unconvinced Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed solutions to combat retail theft will actually deter shoplifters they say have become emboldened in recent years.

Hochul recently unveiled a plan to combat organized retail crime in the city, which includes a law enforcement task force on retail theft and the creation of a state police team focused on organized retail theft rings. The $45 million proposal would reportedly include handing out trespassing notices to people who are caught stealing, which allows them to be arrested if they return to the same store. In the pilot program, just 29 of the 329 people who were served with these notices returned to the same store.

“We really are focused on what has become a sophisticated, organized retail operation – the smash-and-grab efforts. They go in and swipe everything off the shelves, and oftentimes they’re loading into a stolen vehicle, compounding the crimes here,” Hochul said.

However, small business owners and retail theft experts said harsher penalties are needed for shoplifters who’ve become more brazen with their crimes.

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784 Hardware store owner Robert Morales told NYC news outlet The City that he doesn’t just deal with smash and grab robberies. He also sees people walk in and wait until the store is busy to steal expensive power tools.

Noir et Blanc clothing boutique owner Deborah Koenigsberger said she’s seen this same trend in her store as well.

“People used to try to hide the fact they were stealing and you could deter them by watching,” she said in the report. “Now people walk in, take a couple of items and walk out the door.”

Police are often slow to arrive and have told the business owners that even if they do catch the criminals, they have to let them go. As a result, Morales and Koenigsberger have had to adopt extra security measures to try to combat persistent theft.

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Morales now only allows one or two customers in his store at a time, while Koenigsberger makes three workers be in the store at all times.

She says the robberies have left her employees fearful.

“It’s really bad for morale,” she said. “People say, ‘I don’t want to be here, I am scared.’”

Both shop owners said hiring security would help, but they couldn’t afford it.

Morales called for stronger law enforcement to address the issue. 

“We need that when we call law enforcement they come on time and arrest these people,” he said.

Retail theft expert Robert McCrie pointed to New York’s soft-on-crime policies as the reason why thieves have become more emboldened since the pandemic.

“The controls on shoplifting have been reduced because there is not the will to prosecute misdemeanors, which most shoplifting incidents are,” the professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice said in the report.

In New York, a theft must exceed $1,000 to be considered a felony. Shoplifters caught stealing items valued at less are typically given a desk appearance ticket.

“We have the reputation that you can steal $1,000 or less without much consequence,” he said. “That is why New York is the worst and we weren’t like that in the past.”

Gov. Hochul’s office and Mayor Adams’ office did not return requests for comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.