The Thieves Who Steal From All of Us

Community, Organized Crime

There is a group of people who are responsible for stealing millions of dollars from your children’s schools, from your local fire department, the public library, and each and every taxpayer such as yourself. What may surprise you is who the individuals responsible for this multi-million dollar theft are. The group responsible: shoplifters.

According to the University of Arizona, over $65,240,000,000 in retail sales took place in the Phoenix metropolitan area in 2015[1]. Meanwhile, a 2014 national survey by the University of Florida found that retail theft and fraud averaged 1.38% of retail sales[2]. If you assume the Phoenix metropolitan area is consistent with the rest of the country, Maricopa County retailers lost a whopping $900,312,000 in sales to shoplifters. Meanwhile our local government, which is partially funded by sales tax revenue from retail transactions at a rate of around 9% (5.6% to Arizona + 2.3% to Phoenix + .7% to Maricopa County), lost around $77,426,832 in sales tax revenue. That is 77 million dollars that could have been spent on schools, on police officers, or returned to the taxpayers.  

In addition to sales tax, our local government is also funded by property and income taxes. It stands to reason that if Maricopa County retailers experienced an additional 900 million dollars in annual revenue, the property values of their stores could likewise be enhanced. This in turn would certainly impact property tax revenue that our government receives from the many strip-malls and big box stores around the county. Retailers also employ hundreds of thousands of people in Maricopa County who in turn pay taxes on their wages. The annual losses to our local government caused by shoplifting are likely much more than the $77 million in lost sales tax revenue.

Given the millions of dollars of losses that shoplifting causes to our businesses and local government, it is not surprising that shoplifters have become a priority for law enforcement. In a previous blog post, “Think It’s Just Shoplifting? Think Again: Organized Retail Theft,” we explained that the penalties of those convicted of Organized Retail Theft, a crime that could be described as shoplifting for personal profit, can include a substantial term of imprisonment. Reducing shoplifting in our county would not only boost the bottom line for retailers; it would bring additional revenue to local government which could mean better public services or an ability to decrease the tax burden. This makes aggressive prosecution of shoplifters a laudable goal.

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[1] University of Arizona Economic and Business Research Center. Economic Forecast Data. https://www.azeconomy.org/data/forecast-data/

[2] Bose, Nandita. “Shoplifting, other fraud cost U.S. Retailers $44 billion in 2014.” Reuters. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-retail-fraud-idUSKBN0P409L20150624