Why Mayor Adams is optimistic state lawmakers will crack down on retail theft amid impasse over raising penalties

Mayor Eric Adams smiles at briefing
Mayor Eric Adams expressed confidence that Albany will address retail theft this state budget cycle, even as Gov. Kathy Hochul and state legislative leaders are divided on how to do so. Tuesday, April 2, 2024.
Credit: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office.

Mayor Eric Adams on Tuesday expressed confidence that Albany will find a way to crackdown on retail theft this budget cycle, despite Gov. Kathy Hochul and state legislative leaders being at odds over how to do so.

The issue is one of several where Hochul disagrees with state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on how to address — divisions which have driven the three to blow past their April 1 deadline for delivering an on-time Fiscal Year 2025 spending plan.

The split on the retail theft issue focuses mainly on preventing attacks upon retail workers. Hochul wants to make the assaults a felony, while state legislative leaders are against raising penalties for the offense.

Adams, when asked about Heastie’s comments last week that raising penalties are never a good deterrent against crime, said he is open to exploring other solutions the speaker suggested could stem the issue instead.

“He doesn’t believe raising penalties is a good deterrent,” Adams said. “But he also said that he believes there’s some other ideas that he feels could assist us. We want to dig into that, we want to collaborate with them.”

Still, Adams said he wants to get “a handle” on retail theft and top officials in his administration were in Albany Tuesday pushing for exactly that, in addition to his other budget priorities.

“We’re gonna continue to talk with them, they understand the seriousness of retail theft,” Adams said. “And the goal in Albany is to come with the willingness of sitting down, of making sure you come to a solution.”

Deter crime or jail people longer?

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, speaks to reporters about legislation progress outside the Assembly Chamber at the state Capitol Wednesday, June 19, 2019, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

Heastie, during a Tuesday news conference in Albany, held firm that he does not believe making penalties steeper will stem retail theft because they only kick in after the crime has occurred. He added making retail worker assaults a felony would only serve to incarcerate the offenders for a longer period.

“The question should not be ‘are you going to raise penalties because you want to deter crime?’” he said. “The question should be, ‘do you want to raise penalties because you want people in jail longer?’ Those are the questions that people should be asking.”

Stewart-Cousins last week said the other solutions state lawmakers are considering include giving a tax credit to retail businesses to beef up their security systems — which is part of the governor’s budget — as well as providing more resources to local law enforcement offices and the State Police to crackdown on the crimes.

“We’re looking at many, many ways in order to thwart retail theft, we’re hoping this will help,” the majority leader said. “I think both houses find that merely raising penalties does not necessarily get at diminishing the amount of crime. So, what we are trying to do is figure out ways that we can really cut into this organized retail theft.”

It still remains unclear when a final budget deal will be reached. Other issues currently holding up the spending plan include an agreement on a plan to address New York’s acute housing crisis, how much money should go to public schools across the state and whether to raise taxes on the wealthy. 

Heastie said Tuesday that “things are progressing, but I don’t think we’re there yet.”