Suitable For No Other

From their most recent editorial I gather than somebody on the Washington Post staff went to the CVS to buy some Advil and were astonished to find the shelves bare. Here’s a snippet:

Shoppers visiting the CVS Pharmacy at 14th and Irving streets NW in Washington recently must think they traveled back in time to the Soviet Union. The store’s shelves are bare. The refrigerator cases are devoid of food or beverages. When we visited, only sunscreen and greeting cards were on display. But the bizarre scene is not a result of a failed planned economy; rampant theft is the cause. Shoplifters ransacked this CVS over two days early last month, and it hasn’t been restocked since. Weeks later, there’s still hardly anything to buy — or steal.

The CVS at 14th and Irving symbolizes extreme retail theft and the harms it can engender. Distressing and inconvenient to ordinary people, threatening to businesses and livelihoods, and repellent to tourists, unchecked shoplifting can corrode a community’s spirit.

It’s happening in the nation’s capital. The D.C. police department does not track shoplifting specifically but reports that theft in general is up 22 percent over last year. It is harder and harder to find a grocery or pharmacy in the District that doesn’t lock up laundry detergent, toilet paper and deodorant. A Giant in Southeast no longer even stocks certain name-brand health and beauty products that thieves target. A liquor store downtown is closing because of constant shoplifting. The H Street Walmart shuttered earlier this year. (The company said the store “hasn’t performed as well as we hoped.”)

I was reminded of John Adams’s remarks:

But should the People of America, once become capable of that deep <, Start deletion,[. . .], End,> simulation towards one another and towards foreign nations, which assumes the Language of Justice and moderation while it is practicing Iniquity and Extravagance; and displays in the most captivating manner the charming Pictures of Candour frankness & sincerity while it is rioting in rapine and Insolence: this Country will be the most miserable Habitation in the World. Because We have no Government armed with Power capable of contending with human Passions unbridled by <, Start deletion,[. . .], End,> morality and Religion. Avarice, Ambition <, Start deletion,and, End,> Revenge or Galantry, would break the strongest Cords of our Constitution as a Whale goes through a Net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other

There are several known ways of controlling theft. The first and best is for people not to steal because stealing is wrong. The second is to ensure that would-be thieves are deterred by the likelihood of being apprehended and punished. The third is to maintain a police force large and empowered enough to apprehend criminals, DAs to prosecute criminals, and judges to punish them. The last is to authorize and empower shopkeepers to protect their stores against theft.

When none of those are the case, you have more theft.

9 comments… add one
  • CuriousOnlooker Link

    You can look on the bright side.

    If the post-2020 trend keeps holding, in about 6 years, the number retail theft arrests will get back to the pre-2020 state.

  • walt moffett Link

    Combining my comment on the this post and one next on reporting. This is the logical outgrowth of the idea the oppressed (Non European descent males) are justified in any action (including nest fouling) against their oppressor. Until this idea retreats to the late night bull and euphorics session (and equivalent) this will continue.

  • Drew Link

    “Washington Post staff went to the CVS to buy some Advil and were astonished to find the shelves bare.”

    IMHO I think there’s more here than might initially meet the eye. I hardly ever see cost benefit done. Just think of the mother of all hysterias: covid.

    And so we have people, especially in media, who jump on bandwagons for painfully whimsical do gooder initiatives never considering, much less ever being exposed to, the – heh – “unforeseen” consequences of their lightweight analyses and just-this-side-of-witchcraft prescriptions for age old problems. Problems rooted in human nature. (Think the HBO comedian John Oliver, who has never seen a difficult problem he can’t reduce to high school sophomore analysis.)

    Same as it ever was……

  • I think we’re either witnessing the end of “brick and mortar” retail or a return to the way things were when I was a kid: somebody standing behind a counter getting the things you wanted from the shelves or backroom behind him/her.

  • steve Link

    Interesting that the retail sector isn’t reporting a large increase in shoplifting. They may or may not be reporting and the police may or may not be arresting/prosecuting but cant see why the retail sector wouldn’t want to accurately track this. For sure, individual chains/stores have been hit harder than others.


  • What makes you say that, steve? The National Retail Federation has reported sharp year-on-year increases in retail theft.

    And, of course, the latest innovation, at least around here, is something they’re calling “crash and grab”. Looters run a vehicle into the front of a store, then remove what they want. That removes the invenstory AND puts the store out of business for some period of time as well as likely increasing the store’s insurance permanently.

  • steve Link

    I read more than the NRF headlines. First, the dollar amounts are nominal. I believe one of your chief economic concerns is inflation. So that means we should look at the shrinkage rates. We had a 7% increase (1.4% to 1.6%) from 2021 to 2022. Sounds bad, but if you have been on the internet for a while or ever read any research papers you ought to wonder what it was before 2021. Turns out the shrinkage rate was 1.6% in 2019 and 2020. Why weren’t you writing about this in 2019? It was just as large a problem back then. I suspect this is because we get to hear lots of talk about crime when a Dem is in office and we just ignore it when the GOP holds office but maybe you can explain better.

    And on that headline…

    “Savvy, confident organized retail crime gangs — who steal billions of dollars worth of merchandise each year only to sell that merchandise online or at physical fence locations — continue to test retailers to the core, oftentimes stopping at nothing to profit from their criminal behavior. NRF’s ninth annual Organized Retail Crime (ORC) Survey found that 93.5 percent of retailers say they have been a victim of organized retail crime in the past year.

    ….One of the most distressing trends in organized crime activity is the propensity for thieves to resort to violence to avoid being apprehended, putting store personnel, law enforcement and customers at risk.”

    That’s an NRF headline from 2013. Looks like everyone of their yearly announcements all claim something about problematic shrinkage. (BTW, shrinkage incudes internal theft and theft during transportation.) So based upon the NRF numbers, shoplifting has seen an increase but it’s not especially huge and it’s largely back to what it was pre-pandemic.

    Finally, what about 2023? And should we accept the NRF as a sole source? We know that shrinkage was the same in 2019, 2020 and 2022 with 2021 low by recent standards. Fortunately there is another source and it is more recent. The Council on Criminal Justice is reporting numbers for 2023. It looks at data from 24 cities of reported shoplifting. So it surely misses some shoplifting and it’s not a national data set. They report shoplifting incidence per 100,000 population. They show that it has increased from a low of about 28 in 2021 to about 35 now, which would not be very far off from NRF numbers if you just look at the end of 2022. However, if you look at their numbers from 2018-2020 it varies from about 38 to 47, mostly hovering at about 44. Trends and magnitudes are pretty much the same as NRF.


  • Why weren’t you writing about this in 2019?

    Maybe because the “crash and grab” and organized looting weren’t being publicized in 2019.

  • steve Link

    So if the large group grab and smashes are really occurring more often then they should be covered but your article, unless I misread it, seems to imply there has been a big increase in shoplifting in general.


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