Seattle businesses fatigued by reporting shoplifting cases, with no end in sight

There’s been a two-year decline in the number of shoplifting cases referred to Seattle Police (SPD) from the city’s biggest retailers, despite claims by many businesses to the contrary.

The claim came during a presentation to the Seattle City Council by SPD, involving an update to the department's ‘Retail Theft Program’ that’s been in existence since 1989.

Currently, there are 63 store chains signed up for the program, where loss prevention officers file reports of theft to SPD, rather than send an officer to the scene to investigate.

Since 2019, 2,583 cases have been referred to SPD, which Assistant Police Chief Tom Mahaffey said is a decline from years past.

He says the decline stems from stores not hiring their own private security to report the crimes, and a ‘hands off’ policy by retailers to not interfere and detain the thief.

"They’re giving their employees direction that we're not going to have you address this right now," said Mahaffey.

He said because of police staffing issues, officers are treating shoplifting as a lower-priority call.

"We don't have the capacity to respond to these calls because of recent staffing," said Mahaffey.

Police recently arrested John Lomack for allegedly stealing a $600, 70-inch TV from the downtown Seattle Target store.

Police say surveillance video shows him putting the TV, still packed in its box, onto a shopping cart, shoving it into a crowded elevator and pushing it out the door despite attempts by Target security officers to grab the TV.

Court documents say Lomack has stolen from this Target store 22 times.

Two weeks ago, police conducted a special shoplifting enforcement at the Target, arresting 21 people. 18 were booked into jail, but were later released because of the jail’s current policy of not holding non-violent misdemeanor offenders. A single case of theft under $750 is considered a misdemeanor.

Lomack was later arrested for stealing the TV and charged with organized retail theft, which is a felony. A King County judge decided to release him, with the promises he’ll appear for his court dates.

"People are not reporting because they don’t get a response [from SPD] to it," said Song Ho, who owns a convenience store in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood.

"Five or six years ago, the police response was right away—sometimes within three minutes, sometimes one minute," said Ho. "These days, you call them, there’s no response whatsoever, that’s why people are not reporting."

He said he's sorry to see the theft situation deteriorate.

"What’s the point of reporting, when you need the help now, not four hours later?" Ho asked.

He said he now takes matters into his own hands when he catches a shoplifter, rather than call police. He didn’t say what tactics he’s using.

"I’m going to rely on myself, I don't have a choice," Ho said.

RELATED: Seattle police union appeals to new mayor over budget plans: 'Put public safety before politics'

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