Excellent article in the Cascadia Weekly by Ralph Schwartz describes how Bellingham retail stores are increasing security in response to rising crime.
Thefts in Bellingham’s downtown core peaked in March 2022, according to the city’s crime statistics webpage. Apparently, this is part of a broader citywide crime wave that hit Bellingham in the latter stages of the COVID-19 pandemic for a variety of reasons.
Among them was overcrowding at the jail, which prompted the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office to stop booking nonviolent offenders. The police department was short on officers. Finally, new state laws made it more difficult for police to engage with suspected criminals.
Bellingham’s Meridian neighborhood also reported thefts peaked in the summer of 2022. This neighborhood includes Bellis Fair mall and major retails such as Home Depot and Walmart. The neighborhood averaged four reported thefts a day in June through August of last year.
The shoplifting problem isn’t limited to Bellingham. Nationally, retail theft was growing before the pandemic, reaching $68.9 billion in stolen goods in 2019, according to the Retail Industry Leaders Association. A more recent survey by the National Retail Federation reported that overall shrinkage, which includes theft, damaged goods and other losses, reached $94.5 billion in 2021, up 4% compared to 2020, with much of that attributed to a rise in organized crime.
According to the article, large-scale retailers like Home Depot have armed their security guards. This comes in response to Organized Retail Theft operations originating from a nearby Homeless encampment.
“Organized retail crime is an ongoing issue, and it has been on the rise over the last several years for many retailers . . . We have a multitude of initiatives in place to mitigate, including human and technology resources, to make theft in our stores more difficult; close partnerships with law enforcement; and significant efforts working with federal and state task forces to fight this problem.” ~Evelyn Fornes, Senior manager of communications and advocacy for The Home Depot
Washington also has the second highest per capita rate of retail theft of any state in the country after Pennsylvania. In 2021, 23,323 cases of shoplifting were reported in Washington state. Seattle also ranked eighth among large cities for retail crime in 2021.
Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with Theft or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.