Retail crimes soar in Portland, businesses unhappy with local governments

Shoplifting is becoming a bigger and more serious problem across the Portland metro area, with some retailers now overwhelmed.
Published: Sep. 8, 2022 at 8:08 AM PDT
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PORTLAND, Ore. (KPTV) - Portland-area retailers are overwhelmingly dissatisfied with how their local governments are handling theft and property crime, according to a recent survey conducted by the Organized Retail Crime Association of Oregon (ORCAOR.)

The survey, which mostly consists of big-box stores in Portland, found that 95% of respondents were unhappy with how property crime is addressed. It comes as nearly 80% reported “theft had gone up significantly” at their business over the past 18 months, and another 80% felt there wasn’t adequate police response for crimes.

“We’ve seen an increase in assaults, in drug use within the stores, threats, individuals threatening with weapons,” said Jeremy Girard, the president of ORCAOR, who conducted the survey in late spring.

FOX 12 spent several months speaking with loss-prevention mangers at big box stores in Portland, but their corporate offices denied the managers’ requests to be interviewed for this story.

The loss prevention officers told FOX 12 that retail employees are regularly threatened and even sometimes attacked. It’s also common for thieves to boldly walk out of stores with carts overflowing with unpaid merchandise.

“Some of the feedback I’ve gotten from retailers is that they feel hopeless right now,” Girard said.

Some big names in restaurants and coffee have recently closed in Portland, as well. Starbucks closed two of its Portland locations, citing employee safety concerns. Cracker Barrel last month announced it was abruptly shutting its restaurant on Hayden Island.

It’s hurting small businesses, too.

Adorn, a local women’s boutique clothing store, once had five locations around the metro area, but shuttered its downtown location during the pandemic, due to safety issues and vandalism.

Jennifer D. Harris manages the store’s shop along NE Fremont Street.

“People are just really bold. I haven’t seen anything like I’ve seen over the last couple of years,” Harris said.

Industry experts say shoplifters are in it for the cash – motivated to steal expensive merchandise and re-sell it online or through the black market.

“Most of these individuals know that the police aren’t going to respond,” said Girard. “If they do get caught, they are most likely not going to be prosecuted. If they are prosecuted, they aren’t probably going to spend a lot of time in jail for this type of crime.”

Girard also works locally in loss prevention, telling FOX 12 that some professional thieves will steal hundreds of thousands of dollars of merchandise during short crime sprees. And with fewer police investigations, so comes a drop in the number of police reports filed by businesses after theft.

Girard said it’s not unusual now for big-box stores to strategically pursue theft cases involving only their Clackamas or Washington county locations.

“[Those counties] have more resources at this time, and they do have the time to take those cases over Portland right now,” Girard said.

It’s a big problem with a multi-billion dollar price tag in the Pacific Northwest. But for those who work in the stores, the threat is more personal.

“We feel kind of feel exposed in a way, like just have to be on our toes because you never know what kind of person might walk in,” Harris said.

The ORCAOR is pushing for legislative changes to stiffen the penalties for repeat theft offenders. The organization is also interested in creating a task force at the state level, to fight retail crimes, similar to what the Washington state Attorney General recently created.