The price of crime: Robbery eyewitnesses, former store manager discuss the surge in ‘victimless’ robberies.

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The price of crime:  Robbery eyewitnesses, former store manager discuss the surge in ‘victimless’ robberies.
The Sephora at 801 King St. was robbed on May 26. Leslie Golden
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By Aaron Kopp, Denise Dunbar and Kaitlin Murphy | akopp@alextimes.com, kmurphy@alextimes.com

Organized retail crime is a rising problem both in Alexandria and nationwide, a trend that’s borne out both anecdotally and by data.

The rate of robberies rose by 30% in Alexandria, year over-year from 2021 to 2022, while the rate of auto theft increased by 18% and the rate of larcenies climbed 7%. There were also bank robberies in the city in March and April.

These so-called “victimless” crimes – meaning when

laws are broken, theft occurs from a corporate entity and no people are injured – have been a factor in retail chains closing stores in large cities.

On June 13, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on “The Rise in Organized Retail Crime and the Threat to Public Safety.” During the hearing, Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach said “almost all of the stolen products moved by the fences are sold online,” according to the Retail Industry Leaders Association website.

One recent local example of this trend is the May 26 larceny at the Sephora store on King Street. Four young people wearing jeans, sweatshirts

and gator masks entered Sephora, which is a high end beauty products chain with more than 2,700 stores worldwide, according to Sephora.com.

There the criminals put large amounts of product in plastic bags and walked out, likely planning to resell the stolen products.

Tricia Holley witnessed the men leaving the store with their bags full of Sephora merchandise.

“A woman [was] running after them videotaping, but they jumped in a car, and drove toward route one,” Holley said.

Another eyewitness was inside the store at the time of the robbery but wished to remain anonymous for this story and will be referred to as “Sabrina.”

Sabrina confirmed that the customer followed the thieves and recorded their license plate as they drove away. The customer encouraged Sephora employees to call the police, but the employees declined, citing store policy.

“It seemed the store employees were trained in this drill – very calm,” Sabrina said.

Upon realizing a robbery was taking place, Sabrina left the store.

“You can make the decision to leave … You don’t know what people are capable of and you don’t know if they have ac- cess to a weapon,” Sabrina said.

Both Sabrina and Holley ex- pressed a combination of surprise and outrage that there’s not more attention being focused on robberies like what they witnessed in Alexandria.

“How are we not hearing about this locally?”

Sabrina asked.
Holley was amazed by the

lack of response or urgency by the Sephora employees.

“It was startling to see how no one did anything. It was shocking. It was a moment where you say, ‘What would you do?’ No one does anything out of pure fear,” Holley of the reaction of the witnesses, including employees.

Holley said she was particularly struck by the fact that no one at the scene called 911.

“There’s probably a feeling that there’s no point. There’s this feeling of apathy,” Holley said, citing the belief that police will be unable to do anything if called as a potential reason for the inaction.

Alexandria Police Department Spokesman Marcel Bas- sett said a Sephora employee actually did report the robbery, but not until the next day.

“We received a call for service in response to a commercial robbery in [the] 800 block of King street that occurred on Friday, May 26, 2023, on Saturday, May 27, 2023,” Bassett said in an emailed response. “It is believed that multiple males went into the store and took products off the shelf and fled in an unknown direction.”

Sephora’s corporate office did not respond to multiple inquiries from the Times, via both phone and email, about their corporate policy on employee training on how to respond to a robbery. The Sephora manager on duty the day of the robbery also declined to be interviewed.

Bryan Porter, common- wealth’s attorney for Alexandria, said in a written comment to the Times that un- reported robberies are a concerning problem.

“I agree that the decision of corporations not to report mi- nor larcenies to police is some- thing thieves probably are generally aware of and factor into their decisions. But if the management reports a crime, the police will investigate and make an arrest where there is sufficient evidence,” Porter said in the email. “If they make an arrest, my office will evaluate and prosecute the case. We have no policy of not prosecuting any class of robbery or larceny.”

Carlos Coutin, a former CVS manager, spoke to the Times about the perspective of the business community to- ward robberies. Coutin emphasized that his statements are his personal views and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of CVS.

“The clear instruction is basically ‘safety first.’ People are not allowed to chase an individual that is displaying suspicious behavior. People are encouraged to offer customer service. ‘Can I help you with anything’ is the safest way to deter crime,” Coutin said.

The Times contacted CVS corporate offices to ask about company policies toward theft in their stores. A CVS representative replied in an email, say- ing “We don’t have any insights to offer on this topic.”

Coutin stressed that specific policies differ between companies and that the de- fault emphasis on safety is just common sense – and common decency.

“[I want] to remind people that policies of companies are not only to protect a brand, but to protect employees’ lives. No one’s life is worth an expensive face cream,” Coutin said.

The decision to call the police, Coutin said, is typically up to the store manager, not the front-line employees.

“Some store managers almost never call the police. They see it as one more report they have to process, one more meeting they have to have,” Coutin said.

He made it clear, how-

ever, that it’s important for managers to report crimes to the police.

“The more reports are made in an area, the more the police patrol that area. It’s to the benefit of the community to have proactive managers, but that doesn’t mean chasing or accusing,” Coutin added.

Recent news stories have reported that employees have been fired because they called the police against store pol- icy. Usually, all employees can do in such situations is call their supervisor.

Coutin also said that even when police can’t catch per- petrators, reporting can help identify patterns.

“In larger larcenies or grand thefts, organized crime is sometimes involved,” Coutin said.

Organizations which en- gage in the crimes often have very high profit margins. Steal- ing costs almost nothing, and reselling merchandise can be

quite lucrative.
“Everything has a season.

The amount of sun care that gets hit between January and April is so high because organized crime needs to build up their inventory,” Coutin said, making clear that these large robberies are not impulse shoplifting. Instead, there’s considerable planning that goes into such crimes.

Coutin said the cost of theft to both companies and consumers is significant.

“Some see it as the cost of business,” Coutin said of shop- lifting. “Everything a store has is insured, that’s why there’s more emphasis on reporting loss protection. … Cosmetics are the most stolen item in retail. They’re very expensive because their insurance is higher. The end consumer pays for that.”

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