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The Senate Judiciary Committee on March 8 conducted a hearing on legislation desperately needed by Oregon retailers and their customers to rein in organized retail theft. This crime epidemic harms business on which Oregonians depend for everyday products. It raises prices and reduces both sales and employment, costing Oregon governments tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue per year.

Organized retail crime is distinct from simple shoplifting. Increasingly, as OBI’s Derek Sangston testified, organized retail crime is driven by syndicates that target high-value branded items like leather goods, medications, beauty products and power tools. These items are then sold, often at flea markets or through online marketplaces, to people who don’t know they’re buying stolen goods.

Organized retail crime is estimated to have cost Oregon $1.4 billion in lost economic activity, including more than 8,000 jobs. As a result, governments in the state have lost out on more than $40 million in tax revenue.

Senate Bill 318 would address the problem by funding an analyst and a pair of criminal investigators within the Oregon Department of Justice to help investigate and prosecute organized retail theft. They would coordinate with local law enforcement, prosecutors and private loss-prevention specialists. The bill also would give $5 million to the Criminal Justice Commission to administer a local grant program to boost retail theft enforcement.

Senate Bill 340 would add organized retail theft to the state’s repeat offender statute, making it easier for prosecutors to aggregate the value of stolen property. The bill also would allow prosecutions for organized retail theft in any county in which a single crime was committed. Finally, it would provide for enhanced penalties for people who place employees and others at risk when engaging in reckless conduct.

Read Derek Sangston’s full testimony here.