A group repping thousands of New York City’s independent grocers demanded Tuesday that state legislators pass new laws cracking down on shoplifting — including locking up thieves who assault retail workers.
The push comes as city merchants grapple with a rise in shoplifting crimes, which have soared 81% through the first quarter of 2023.
“We’re asking Albany, pleading with Albany … ‘Change your mind on bail,’” said Nelson Eusebio, head of the Collective Action to Protect Our Stores, referring to the state’s notorious bail-reform laws.
“The crime of assaulting a supermarket employee must be made a bailable offense,” Eusebio said.
“Our stores cannot continue like this. We are part of your community. We need you to support us. Albany please wake up!” he said during a press conference at Pioneer Supermarket on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
One measure would raise the penalty of assaulting a retail worker from a misdemeanor to a bail-eligible Class D felony assault in the second degree — such as the case with taxi drivers, utility workers and first responders and other essential government workers.
Youssef Mubaraz, head of the 5,000-member Yemeni-American Merchants Association, said, “We shouldn’t be treated as second-class citizens who get taken care of last on the list.
“We do not stand for that at all.”
The measure is sponsored by state Sen. Jessica Scarcella Spanton (D-Staten Island/Brooklyn) and state Assemblyman Manny De Los Santos, a Democrat who represents the northern Manhattan neighborhoods of Washington Heights and Inwood.
“As we have seen a spike in violence and economic hardship over the past few years, there has been an increase in shoplifting that often results in verbal and physical assault against retail workers,” the lawmakers said in their memo supporting the bill.
“There is an ample need for retail workers to receive the same protections as most first responders receive in the New York State workforce.
“This common-sense legislation would make it a felony to commit even minor assaults against retail workers. It is meant to be a deterrent.”
Another bill would charge a shoplifter convicted of a second such crime within two years with grand larceny in the fourth degree, a Class E felony that could be a bailable offense.
That measure is sponsored by state Sen. Kevin Thomas (D-Nassau) and state Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz (D-Bronx).
“In instances where a person who looks to steal is not confronted, an environment is created where the retail business becomes a target for future robberies,” Thomas and Dinowitz said in their bill memo.
“This bill would ensure that those who steal and are convicted of petit larceny in the last two years would be charged with grand larceny for repeated and continued offenses.”
The lawmakers also mentioned the financial losses to merchants through lost revenues and higher insurance costs.
A third measure would create a new crime for selling stolen goods online, a Class A misdemeanor.
The bill was introduced by state Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal and state Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, both Manhattan Democrats.
“Theft of retail products will be considerably less lucrative if the goods cannot be sold under the guise of online marketplaces that otherwise appear reputable,” the lawmakers said.
It’s unclear whether lawmakers will pass the anti-shoplifting measures in the final weeks of the 2023 legislative session after a drawn-out fight over bail reform.
Gov. Kathy Hochul and lawmakers agreed to a tweak in the cashless bail system as part of the recently approved $229 billion state budget.
It nixed a provision requiring judges to impose the “least restrictive” conditions to ensure criminal defendants show up in court.
The new law gives judges more leeway to set bail for serious crimes.
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