As retail theft continues to cause mass disruptions for shoppers and financial despair for business owners, officers from one Queens precinct are looking to turn things around on a major shopping hub.
Business owners along the bustling Jamaica Avenue strip in Jamaica tell amNewYork Metro that shoplifting has become a part of their daily routine — just another symptom of running a storefront in the Big Apple. For some, it’s more than just about losing merchandise; it’s a life-threatening fear.
“The whole dimension of business has changed. You come to work and have to worry about getting killed. Everyone threatens your life,” 57-year-old Larry Shrem said, who manages the Super V store located at 163-30 Jamaica Ave. “I have been doing this for 30 years and for the last two years I have been asking myself if I really want to do this anymore.”
According to Shrem, things have become so bad in his store that shoplifters simply walk inside, grab items off the shelves, and threaten violence if he tries to stop them. The brazen thieves seemingly care not about the store or its employees, or the potential legal repercussions.
In the wake of the shoplifting increase, a coalition of cops from the 103rd Precinct are striving to disrupt business as usual for retail thieves. Made up of several units stationed within the Jamaica Business Improvement District, Field Training Unit and Neighborhood Coordination Units, the special team makes steady patrols around the area, and steady arrests.
“There’s a lot of potential in this area for it to be booming like Manhattan,” Captain Nicholas Minor told amNewYork Metro. “Because of that, we have extra police officers there to try to make sure that crime is not out of hand and people feel safe. And then just talking to the business district in Jamaica.”
This coalition of officers, implemented just over one year ago in December 2022, patrols the litany of stores daily from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. For Captain Minor, the ultimate goal is to not only ensure the physical and financial safety of those who live and work there, but to also make drastic quality of life improvements such as ensuring there is no need to lock items away behind plexiglass.
Taking a boots-on-the-ground approach, Minor says the officers have forged relationships with business owners amid their constant patrols, seeing as a result great success in cuffing crooks red-handed stealing products.
Officers even revealed that, in one instance, they charged a single person with 17 petit larceny crimes in a single day.
“We make a lot of retail theft arrests because we are out there and because we are out there people are telling us ‘can you come, we have someone stealing property.’ There is a little bit of a boom because we are doing what we are supposed to be doing,” Captain Minor said.
It’s not just the brick-and-mortar stores who have felt the pain of shoplifters in recent months. Vendors selling products along Jamaica Avenue have also experienced thievery, and say that the cops have been instrumental in catching crooks.
Even so, a few vendors say they feel they are amid a retail theft pandemic that can’t be easily cured.
Selena Yasman says thieves will often pass by her store located at 160-07 Jamaica Ave. and swipe items displayed out front. With the process taking seconds, Yasman says there is little the cops can do.
“They help me, they come and investigate, but when the police come they [the thieves] are already gone,” Yasman explained.
Knowing that they are up against such odds, police say they are working with the Queens District Attorney’s office on a new trespass program that allows officers to arrest known offenders before they are even able to strike.
“The way the trespass program works is if you get arrested for a crime in the store, it doesn’t have to be shoplifting, but it’s generally shoplifting, you’re served what’s called the trespass notice, which says you are now banned from this store,” Lieutenant John McGivney of the Jamaica Business District Enforcement Unit said. “If you come back into a store you trespass, one — the store can call us before you even do anything because you’re not allowed to be there; but two — let’s say you go back into one of the stores you’ve been trespassed from, commit shoplifting and get away with it, when we catch up with you later — because we know who you are — you’re now getting charged with burglary in the third degree.”
While fuming store owners like Larry Shrem says he believes retailers should be protected under the same laws that deems attacking bus drivers or train conductors a felony, the cops charge they have made tremendous strides in the war on retail theft and pledge to not give up until thefts plummet in the area.