Stine: With Seattle’s retail theft on the rise, city erects barrier from blame with shoplifting audit

Feb 24, 2022, 2:03 PM
retail theft...
Pioneer Square (Credit Doug Kerr via Flickr)
(Credit Doug Kerr via Flickr)

The Seattle Police Department claims that retail theft case referrals have declined over the last two years, referencing a retail policy direction of a “hands-off approach” due to employee safety and liability concerns. Simultaneously, the Seattle City Council reports that the overall volume of retail theft has increased, citing the more prevalent use of online marketplaces for selling stolen goods.

Are we going to be changing our policies? Are we going to be arresting people when they try to steal a flat-screen TV? Are we going to be arresting somebody when they steal $500 worth of goods?

No. We’re going to get an auditor.

The council’s solution is to commission the city auditor to examine “the current state of organized retail crime in Seattle … and potential opportunities for the City to better address organized retail crime.”

Councilmembers Andrew Lewis and Lisa Herbold announced Tuesday that the audit of organized retail crime is in its preliminary stage.

We’re going to pay somebody else to look at our problem and tell us exactly what we’re doing wrong. Because it’s not obvious to me what we’re doing wrong. And it shouldn’t be obvious to you either. That’s why we need to pay an independent person to figure this out for us.

Somebody, please explain this to me: You have a bunch of people selling stolen goods outside of Pioneer Square, and now you’re going to try to get Public Safety and Human Services to take a look.

“Well, gee, what’s going wrong with retail theft?” Is this some kind of cruel joke?

Normally, what a city auditor does is, for example, identify if a particular school district is performing to standard. If not, then you send in a functional consultant to figure out who’s not following the curriculum. Maybe it’s a lack of materials, a lack of books, or a lack of effective teaching. Then, they bring that report back to the state.

This audit is different though. This audit will examine the state of organized retail crime in the city, look at strategies other jurisdictions are using to address the issues, and develop ways the city might potentially better address these types of crime.

I have the craziest idea: What if you just let the police do their job?

The council is trying to put a barrier from blame between them and crime, shifting responsibility from the policies they encourage. Instead, the auditor produces the answers: income inequality, or perhaps lack of affordable housing.

It’s a very clever move. It’s also a political move. This is dirty politics, not something to be celebrated. This is actually a cruel joke.

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Stine: With Seattle’s retail theft on the rise, city erects barrier from blame with shoplifting audit