Skip to Content
Morning Spew

NYC’s New Retail Theft Task Force Won’t Make Your Pharmacy Suck Less

The mayor convened a team to combat shoplifting, and more links to smash this Thursday.

The line inside a CVS pharmacy.
(Hell Gate)

Last December, Mayor Eric Adams assembled a summit at Gracie Mansion to combat a crisis. No, not the housing crisis, or COVID-19, mental health, or substance abuse. Instead, the mayor convened dozens of the best and brightest business stakeholders and law enforcement leaders to put their heads together and discuss what is surely the biggest, most pressing problem in the city: retail theft. (In accord with the seriousness of the occasion, the New York Post reported that the mayor even stayed at the summit for an entire 20 minutes.)

On Wednesday, almost a year later, the flurry of ideas from that brainstorm cohered into a solution: the New York City Organized Retail Theft Task Force, made up of district attorneys, BIDs, law enforcement agencies, retail associations and national chain retailers. According to a statement from the Mayor's Office, the task force will advise the Adams administration on retail prevention theft laws, "enhance intelligence sharing" to identify "shoplifting trends," and decide how to implement "cutting-edge" anti-retail theft technology (which means…really good cameras? Faster CVS employees? The release doesn't specify.)

"Our merchants are being victimized by individual shoplifters and organized crime rings," Adams said in a report on the retail theft summit's findings published in May. "Retail theft hurts our businesses, our workers, our customers, and our city," the mayor continued. "New Yorkers shouldn’t have to foot the bill for higher prices because of theft. Employees shouldn’t feel unsafe going to work and businesses shouldn’t have to shutter their doors because of lawless individuals." In September, a Target in East Harlem made national headlines when the company blamed organized retail theft for its closure. 

The only problem with this narrative is that it's simplistic. As Hell Gate previously reported, there's a distinct lack of concrete evidence to justify fears about "organized retail crime"—and attendant calls for bail reform rollback—in the city. And a new report from the Council on Criminal Justice analyzed national shoplifting trends (and accompanying news coverage), and found that shoplifting rates over the past five years have basically stabilized to pre-pandemic levels across the country—although they remain elevated in New York City. 

The report acknowledged that New York City leads the country in retail theft incidents, but noted that shoplifting rates decreased in the city during the first half of 2023. Increases in retail theft between 2019 and 2023, the authors wrote, could be attributed to a higher rate of reporting from major retailers egged on by a wave of news stories about the scourge of shoplifting or, perhaps, a City executive who blames a small band of hardened criminal experts for small business woes. ("It is possible that the growth in incidents in the three cities with the largest increases could be related to shoplifting 'specialists,' such as those highlighted by New York City Mayor Eric Adams earlier this year," they wrote. "However, it is unclear why a group of specialists would drive such a large increase during this period compared to the pre-pandemic period.") The report also discounted New York state bail reform, a favorite Adams boogeyman, as a potential cause of increases in shoplifting.

Meanwhile, companies like CVS and Walgreens, which dominate the prescription drug market in this country, report losing just as much money to internal mismanagement as shoplifting. Thousands of pharmacy employees just walked out on their jobs for three days to protest the miserable working conditions that are apparent to anyone visiting a chain pharmacy in the last several years. Despite all of this—or in the case of their working conditions, perhaps because of it—CVS continues to post billions in quarterly profits.

Still, NYC's retail theft task force has been set in motion, which means thieves should be nervous and the city's mom-and-pop megastores can finally rest easy knowing that the Public Safety Mayor has their backs—even though ultimately, Eric Adams has bigger crimes to worry about.

Some links to smash this morning: 

Already a user?Log in

Thanks for reading!

Give us your email address to keep reading two more articles for free

See all subscription options

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter