Retail theft crackdown bill heads to DeSantis

by | Mar 8, 2024

The Florida Legislature on Friday advanced a bill that would increase penalties for retail theft and “porch piracy” by making coordinated thefts a felony and imposing stricter consequences for repeat offenders.

The Florida Legislature on Friday advanced a bill aimed at stiffening penalties for retail theft, including “smash-and-grab” incidents and “porch piracy.”

The legislation, carried by Rep. Bob Rommel, seeks to impose harsher consequences for those convicted of participating in or orchestrating these thefts.

Under the bill, participating in a retail theft with five or more individuals would constitute a third-degree felony. The legislation escalates the penalty to a second-degree felony for anyone who organizes such thefts through the internet, specifically targeting the use of social media to coordinate these crimes. A further provision introduces a first-degree felony charge for repeat offenders or those committing theft with the use of a firearm.

During a prioir committee meeting, Rep. Rommel pointed to the economic impact of retail theft, which he claimed cost American retailers approximately $101 billion last year.

“It not only affects the individuals that work [in retail businesses], it affects the business owner, and it affects the people that want to go shopping because it raises the cost of prices,” said Rommel. “We’ve seen rapid inflation and other policies around the country but [retail theft] also raises it.”

The bill also addresses “porch piracy” — the theft of packages from residential porches — by making it a felony to steal packages regardless of the thief’s knowledge of the package’s value.

The legislation drew criticism from some quarters, with opponents arguing that lowering the felony threshold for theft to $40 could lead to excessively harsh penalties for minor offenses. Critics, including a representatives of the SPLC Action Fund, contended that such punitive measures would not effectively deter crime and could lead to an increase in the state’s incarceration rates without addressing the root causes of theft.

Rommel, however, contended that he deliberately wrote the bill to dole out harsh punishments to serve as a preemptive deterrent.

“The reason I made it so severe is I hope it deters people not to steal because it is affecting everybody,” he said.

Last month, Gov. Ron DeSantis pledged support for Rommel’s measure. State Attorney General Ashley Moody and Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Mark Glass also expressed support for the bills.

“If you commit a crime in Florida, you are going to be held accountable,” said DeSantis. “We will not tolerate retail crime, porch pirates and lawlessness.”

The push for tougher penalties comes as small business retailers nationwide report increasing challenges related to theft. According to data provided by the Executive Office of the Governor, referencing a national study conducted by Forbes, 41 percent of small business retailers said the value of items stolen in 2023 has increased compared to previous years, 75 percent of small business retailers reported monthly losses between $500 and $2,500 due to theft, and 85 percent of small business retailers said they experience theft at least once a year, and just 5 percent of small business retailers report never experiencing theft.


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