EXCLUSIVE: Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody is launching a statewide task force to take on organized retail theft in an effort to bridge the gap between retailers, law enforcement and prosecutors as businesses in states across the nation report nearly a 70% increase in theft over the past year.
Moody is launching an interactive database Thursday to help spot trends, identify suspects and take down organized retail theft rings. The database – Florida Organized Retail Crime Exchange (FORCE) – will create a space for shareable, searchable information on thousands of incidents of theft statewide.
Moody’s office and Florida’s Retail Federation will operate the database, which will be available to retailers and law enforcement agencies by invitation that complete specialized training.
Moody’s office said the FORCE database will give retailers the ability to upload data about recent retail theft occurrences, such as items stolen, suspect description, method of operation, and vehicle identification – making it easier to identify thefts and potentially strengthening charges and stiffening penalties.
Once information is uploaded to FORCE, other retailers and law enforcement agencies will have access to the information, which Moody’s office says would provide a "greater ability to link related crimes and perpetrators."
"We are seeing lawlessness and out-of-control mobs preying on businesses and consumers in major cities outside of Florida, and we will not allow these crime sprees to harm Floridians or our retailers," Moody told Fox News. "While we have done a good job of catching and prosecuting major retail theft rings in Florida, the threat is growing, and we must evolve with it."
Moody added that FORCE will "share information on retail crime throughout the state and stop these criminals before they cause more harm."
Meanwhile, Moody’s office said the task force, made up of law enforcement, prosecutors and retailers, will meet regularly to "discuss trends, share criminal intelligence and coordinate investigations" and will work "together" to stop organized retail theft in Florida.
The creation of FORCE and the state task force comes as the National Retail Federation reported an increase in shoplifting and robberies — linking the incidences to organized retail crime. The NRF said that 69% of retailers reported an increase in organized retail crime in 2021, citing the COVID-19 pandemic, policing, changes to sentencing guidelines and growth of online marketplaces for the increase in ORC activity.
The NRF said 65% of respondents reported an increase in violence in these incidents, with 37% saying the gangs involved in activities were "much more aggressive than in the past."
The NRF reported that 78% of retailers felt a federal organized retail crime law would "effectively combat these issues" in part, because the issue is a multijurisdictional one that crosses state lines.
NRF reported the top cities affected by organized retail crime, with Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Miami in the top five, followed by Houston, Atlanta, Sacramento, Baltimore, Las Vegas and Seattle.