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Organized retail crime (ORC) is a nationwide plague that, as part of retail crime as a whole, has grown into a 1 billion problem for retailers. In the past, the loss of product was outweighed by the cost of increasing security; therefore, suspected ORC went unreported or underreported. However, as organized retail crime becomes more brazen and violent, retailers must coordinate efforts with law enforcement agencies to stop organized retail theft. Organized retail crime case preparation and presentation are now crucial to building trust and partnership with all levels of law enforcement.

When investigating and documenting organized retail crime (ORC) cases, it's essential to take a professional approach. Retailers must be prepared to build an ironclad ORC case and present it to law enforcement to prove the extent of their losses.  

The following tips are to help retail Loss Prevention and Asset Protection teams prepare and present ORC cases to build trust and develop relationships with local, state, and federal agencies.

What is Organized Retail Crime (ORC)?  

Organized Retail Crime (ORC) refers to professional criminal organizations whose focus is the large-scale theft of retail merchandise with the intent to resell for substantial financial gain. This is why, at times, the phrase "organized retail theft" is used interchangeably with organized retail crime (ORC). These criminal enterprises operate in various wide-reaching and sophisticated forms, including but not limited to shoplifting, smash-and-grab, and carjacking. Typically, these organized retail crime associations' efforts are highly coordinated and span local, regional, national, and international locations.    

ORC is not a mom-and-pop operation; it involves employing large groups of criminals to steal merchandise from stores based on market demands; the items most sought after by the average consumer are the items these organized crime rings seek out. Organized retail crime associations steal valuable, high-end products and household necessities such as baby formula, diapers, laundry detergent, over-the-counter medicines, and razors. Once stolen, ORC gangs then convert the stolen goods into large sums of cash via person-to-person sales, online auction sites, flea markets, and even other retailers.  

According to the NRF and Appriss Retail's 2023 National Retail Security Survey, retail crime led to over $112 billion in losses for the industry in 2022, a significant increase from $93.9 billion in 2021 (15%).

Respondents to the survey noted that organized retail crime remains a major concern, with 67% citing increased violence and aggression from ORC perpetrators compared to the previous year. Additionally, 28% of these retailers were forced to close multiple store locations due to these harmful instances of organized retail theft.  

Why Organized Retail Crime (ORC) Matters to Retailers  

While retailers understand that theft impacts their margins and overall profitability, organized retail crime impacts the retail industry beyond simply the loss of goods. These crimes have endangered, injured, and, in some cases, killed retail associates. 81% of respondents to the 2023 National Retail Security Survey reported that ORC offenders had grown more violent overall. The fallout from this ORC chaos is consumers' fear of shopping in-store, a lack of products on shelves, and massive employee retention issues.  

One significant reason for this increase in organized retail theft is that over the past 20 years, various states and retailers have created policies or laws to avoid physical altercations between employees and shoplifters. These safeguards were meant to protect employees from injury and limit the retailer's liability.  

Retailers can fight back against organized retail crime associations through information sharing and increased reporting of incidents to law enforcement agencies. A relationship where ORC case details are shared allows law enforcement to identify patterns within their communities to stop crime. Additionally, with a working relationship established, a local police force can share information on known ORC gangs moving throughout the area so retailers can stay abreast of the various criminal elements flowing through their community.  

Benefits of Collaborating with Law Enforcement on ORC Cases  

When law enforcement agencies and Loss Prevention/Asset Protection teams sincerely collaborate in response to organized retail crime, they are more likely to resolve operational issues and make arrests that can halt retail theft.  

Organized retail crime associations often move from store to store, which ties in multiple law enforcement jurisdictions, making it difficult for any single law enforcement agency to recognize the extent of their operations.

The sheer scale of ORC rings is why retailers, who tend to have a centralized reporting structure, can be the central nervous system for compiling data for law enforcement.

In many instances, when viewed as one-off crimes, ORC rings can mask their strategic plans as simple opportunistic shoplifting. Still, law enforcement can be made aware of these calculated crimes with informed Loss Prevention and Asset Protection teams working by their side. 

Preparing Your Organized Retail Crime Case  

Your investigation should be documented and kept in a binder or kept organized in a digital case management software program 

When building an ORC case, the goal is to get multiple incidents in multiple jurisdictions to reach the "felony theft threshold." Every state has determined a specific dollar amount that allows law enforcement to file felony charges according to their "felony theft threshold." These are much more serious crimes and have harsher penalties.  

  1. Executive Summary – Outlining your investigation, laws violated, specific jurisdictions, number of people involved, verified identity of suspects, and vehicles involved.  
  2. Incident Breakdown – Dates and times, a breakdown of all laws violated, video or pictures of suspects, and documented evidence like transaction information, credit card, debit card, or gift card information. Detailed incident breakdown (by date, time, county, state and financial losses).  
  3. Excel (Financial) Spreadsheet – Detailed breakdown of financial losses (counties, states).  
  4. Video Summary – Detailed breakdown by date of all video incidents involving suspects.  
  5. Evidence Summary – Chain of custody and where evidence is being stored (photos).  
  6. Conclusion – It's essential you follow the process through the courts, insist on 100% prosecution, and have investigators in court for every court date. This approach also frees up law enforcement to have to appear and shows your 100% commitment to prosecution. 

Remember that organized retail crime suspects are habitual offenders, and misdemeanor charges never seem to prevent them from continuing to shoplift or commit retail crimes. Retail theft and fraud are lucrative, and often, the reward is far greater than the risk of getting caught and doing jail time.  

Presenting Your Organized Retail Crime Case to Law Enforcement  

  1. Compile – After you have compiled your evidence and have reached "Felony Theft" in multiple jurisdictions (county, state), it's time to have it reviewed with your upper-level LP/AP executives. They tend to review your work to ensure it is clear, concise, and documented professionally and accurately. This is the time to discuss the best jurisdictions to file charges. You don't always need to file charges in every jurisdiction in which you have incidents. You can sometimes use this as leverage when you get to court in recouping restitution.  
  2. Schedule the Presentation – Call the local, state, or federal agency you're looking to bring the case to. Confirm the date, time, and location of presentation.  
  3. Prepare for Presentation – We all know these investigations take time, and you need to refresh yourself on all incidents and events that took place. Doing this also helps you feel confident when speaking to law enforcement.  
  4. Presentation Day – Meet with law enforcement. Dress professionally; show you're prepared and that the company is committed to prosecution. Discuss potential charges, possible search warrants, and communication with police detectives should suspects come back in stores of jurisdictions where you plan to file charges.  
  5. Follow-up/Communicate with Law Enforcement/Case Status—Your supervisors will likely require you to continue to get a status update from the agency you are working with. You're working with law enforcement to file criminal charges, so the company's legal counsel will want to make sure things go as planned.  
  6. Court – After charges are filed or suspects are arrested – be sure to get all court dates and be present at all hearings. Introduce yourself to the district attorneys (prosecutors). Let them know you will be at every court date, and should they need anything, you will provide it ASAP. Professional attire is required in all court proceedings. Remember you are representing your company. You must be dressed professionally, organized, and found to be detail-oriented.

Preparing and presenting are key to building trust with law enforcement. Once you show that you handle your investigations professionally, that your evidence and work detail is exceptional, and that you always reach a successful conclusion, you will establish a relationship and true partnership with multiple law enforcement agencies. 

 

Editor's Note: This post was originally published in October 2021 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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Author

Christopher J. McGourty, President of NAORCA Worldwide

Christopher J. McGourty is the Founder of NAORCA Worldwide – The National Anti Organized Retail Crime Association. Christopher has over 30 years in loss prevention, ORC investigations, and consulting. He recently collaborated with Collins ghostwriting on a new book "The Vicious Cycle of Organized Retail Crime". Christopher strongly believes the best defense against theft, fraud and cybercrime is education, training, and awareness.

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