Major retail brands threaten to close stores over rampant retail theft

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said the big box retailer could close some of its stores if thefts continue to plague those locations.

Target projects it will lose $600 million by the end of its fiscal year. And Walgreens has started closing theft-ridden stores including in San Francisco.

The National Retail Federation sets last year's losses at almost $95 billion. Organized crime theft rose 26%.

"This is happening all over the country," said University Of New Haven Criminologist, Professor Daniel Maxwell. "That is becoming an epidemic. This kind of loss; they call it 'shrinkage.' And that's either shoplifting or employees that are stealing things from the stores."

If Walmart closes its problem stores, the California Retailers Association says it's a problem for the communities they serve.

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"A Walgreens, a Target, a Walmart, they also include pharmacies. So, they're also part of our healthcare system," said California Retailers Association President Rachel Michelin.

Many big box stores also carry food.

"If that's the only game in town, so to speak, and they decide to close up, now you have a community that is in a food desert or a medication desert," said Maxwell.

It's not just major retailers, not by a long shot.

"There are hundreds of small retailers that are closing their doors every day because of retail theft as well," said Michelin.

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Prop 47, which passed in 2014, enacted many crucial criminal reforms. But it also increased the misdemeanor theft level from $400 to $950 per theft, often resulting in the thieves being cited and released.

"Candidly, people are not being held accountable for breaking the laws. There are some policy changes that still have to happen. We tried last year in the legislature; couldn't get a bill through," said Michelin.

For example, thieves go from store to store and steal $900 in merchandise at five places. That $4,500 worth of goods is no longer combined.

"It's a misdemeanor. It's not a felony. So, people are using theft as a business to fund other illegal activities because there's not a penalty for it," said Michelin.

Retailers say arrests can break the theft cycle.

"We want to make sure that they get the support services that are readily available across the state of California," said Michelin.

Maxwell says retailers should undertake better tagging of merchandise, surveillance and other cutting edge anti-theft technologies. Either way, you're paying for it.