Thousands of independent grocers across New York City are forming a fast-growing political coalition to demand that elected officials and law enforcement clamp down on shoplifters, claiming that increasingly brazen and violent heists have created a crisis, The Post has learned.
The group — which already represents nearly 4,000 stores, including corner bodegas and supermarkets like KeyFood and C-Town in the New York metro area — is calling for prosecutors and judges to set bail for “repeat theft offenders,” reversing key provisions of New York’s sweeping and controversial bail reform law in 2019.
Collective Action to Protect our Stores, or CAPS, is also asking lawmakers to make assaults on retail workers a Class D felony — a protection given to MTA and NYPD officers and livery drivers in New York that grocers argue they should receive as essential workers, too.
“We have been assaulted, terrorized, and our physical and mental health jeopardized,” the group said in a letter being sent to Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams on Monday in addition to other city and state officials. “A rise in larceny cases has hit independent supermarkets hard.”
The group also wants legislators to tackle a problem that many believe is at the heart of the spike in burglaries: the fact that thieves are not typically prosecuted or arrested for stealing less than $1,000 worth of goods. CAPS is asking for a change in the law so that serial shoplifters who cumulatively steal more than $1,000 worth of goods over time will be charged with grand larceny instead of petit larceny.
“Repeat offenders are the key words,” Carlos Collado, who owns two Fine Fare grocery stores in the Bronx and Harlem, told The Post. “We are not asking for elevated charges for first-time offenders, but to send a message to those who make it a career.”
Businesses that resell stolen goods should likewise be put on notice, CAPS says in the letter, which asks Albany legislators to reclassify such transactions as Class A misdemeanors that could result in fines and even short jail time for operators.
Grocers regularly face brazen individuals who repeatedly come into their stores with backpacks and large shopping bags to steal items like Tide detergent, Red Bull energy drinks, Haagen-Dazs ice cream and steaks that they can quickly resell, as The Post has previously reported.
“Ninety-seven percent of the shoplifters do it to sell the stuff,” said Francisco Marte, who owns two bodegas in the Bronx and heads up the Bodega group. Very few are “doing it because they are hungry,” Marte added.
Among CAPS’ initial members are the Bodega Small Business Group and its 3,000 members in NYC, Long Island and New Jersey; the National Supermarket Association along with its 600 store members, including the nearly 300 Key Food stores in New York. And the Metro Supermarket Association, which represents about 60 Korean grocers. The group has hired a lobbying firm, CMW Strategies.
Many feel abandoned by NYPD and legislators alike. As The Post previously reported, a group of Latino supermarket owners who described themselves as longtime Democrats backed Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin in the November election because of his hard stance on crime.
CAPS members believe NYPD and New York District Attorney units could benefit from forming dedicated groups focusing on retail theft.
On Thursday, the NYPD said just 327 unrepentant crooks accounted for 30% of the Big Apple’s 22,000 shoplifting arrests last year. That means the alleged recidivists got busted a total of about 6,600 times — for an average of more than 20 times each.
NYPD Chief of Crime Control Strategies Michael Lipetri added that “about half” of the group were “convicted felons” and that 235 of the 327 serial shoplifters “are walking around the streets of New York right now.”
Nallely Dejesus, whose family owns five grocery stores under the KeyFood banner in the Bronx, said supermarkets are in a bind over whether to tell employees to try catch shoplifters in the act and stop them.
“You become the go-to store in the neighborhood if you don’t do anything,” Dejesus told The Post.
This summer, however, she said her brother — after thwarting a would-be meat burglar four times in the Bronx location he managed — saw the thug barge into the store wielding a shotgun.
“My brother ran to the back of the store where we have a storage room and the customers who were in the aisle ran with him for safety,” Dejesus said. “All the customers [at the checkout counters] were on the floor — movie style.”
The police didn’t show up until an hour later, she said.
“We lost business after that,” Dejesus said. “Because who wants to go to a store where someone walked in with a shotgun?”
Collado said it’s “maybe in the past eight months” that he and fellow supermarket operators, exhausted from a lack of law enforcement, “started feeling like it’s useless to call the cops.”
“Sometimes now we catch them and we don’t even bother calling NYPD unless it results in a violent aggressor,” Collado said. “We don’t even hear from the DAs. We handle it ourselves.”
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