Bipartisan bill would increase penalties for repeat shoplifters
COLONIE – Republican state Sen. Jake Ashby joined other local elected officials at Colonie Center Thursday, Feb. 1, to promote the state legislative action to combat the increase in retail crime. Colonie Center has been suffering from a spike in retail crime after the state implemented criminal justice and bail reforms in 2019.
Ashby said the time is now to fix the problem.
“In the State Legislature, we don’t need to wait for the budget to act. In fact, it doesn’t cost a dime to fix these laws,” Ashby said. “I sponsor a bipartisan bill with Assemblyman (Angelo) Santabarbara to increase criminal penalties on repeat offenders. It’s about establishing real deterrence.”
Ashby and Santabarbara, a Democrat, sponsored the bill, which would increase criminal penalties against repeat shoplifters and help crack down on repeat offenders of petit larceny.
The Senate Bill S7599, introduced July 12, amends the penal law in relation to grand larceny in the fourth degree. Santabarbara introduced the Assembly version.
According to its summary of provisions posted on the New York State Senate website;
The bill amends section 155.30 of the penal law by making a person who has committed repeat petit larceny, a misdemeanor, guilty of grand larceny in the fourth degree, a Class E felony.
The repeated thefts are defined as being convicted of petit larceny twice within any three-month period, or three times with any 12-month period.
Grand larceny can carry a punishment of more than a year in State Prison, unlike the punishment for petit larceny charge, which would be served in a county jail with most cases not involving jail time.
The bill is currently in committee at the Senate. It was co-sponsored by George Borrello (R,C), Mario Mattera (R,C), Peter Oberacker (R,C) and Daniel G. Stec (R,C,IP). There is no indication yet whether Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie or Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins will let it come up for a vote or if Gov. Kathy Hochul would sign such a bill, if passed.
“You need only to look in The Colonie Spotlight in their weekly police blotter. I highlighted just the people that are out on warrants that are multiple offenders,” Colonie Town Board Member Jeff Madden said. “Each week, they continue to commit crimes over and over with no threat of a penalty. … A lot of these people, it’s a cry for help and we’re not helping them. What we’ve done is we’ve moved to a system where no one gets help. They keep repeatedly offending, and it’s time to stop.”
Shoplifting has caused local businesses and retail chains to raise prices, scared customers away from stores, and threatened jobs and livelihoods, Ashby said.
“This shouldn’t be a partisan issue. I’m all for the investments in education, mental health and addiction treatment and that will make our communities safer,” Ashby said. “But what about right now? We need to fix these laws and keep the social fabric of our communities from coming apart.”
Capital Region Chamber President and CEO Mark Eagan said that the spotlight on shoplifting is a critical issue.
“If you think just a few years ago, we never would have really thought that we would be in a store and see people actually carrying out loads of merchandise and actually have employees at that store just watch them do that,” Eagan said.
Eagan said that shoplifting is a kind of organized crime. The shoplifters that are stealing the goods are also selling the goods to other businesses or on the open market, he said.
Recently, the Stewart’s Shop on lower Central Avenue in Albany closed because of retail thefts. The negative effect it had on the safety of their employees and profitability was a factor in the closure, according to Eagan.
Colonie Center, one of the main shopping centers in the Capital Region, is no stranger to shoplifting, and it is impacting the tenants and customers.
“When individuals engage in criminal activities that jeopardize the safety of our retailers and guests, it poses a challenge to uphold the environment that we strive to maintain,” Jeff Law, General Manager of Colonie Center said.
Law said he recognizes the importance of enhancing the penalties of individuals who are involved in illegal theft from retailers as a productive measure to deter those activities and if the shoppers and tenants witness a crime, must contact the proper authorities.
“Colonie Center remains committed to fostering a welcoming environment for everyone, while actively providing security measures. In addition, we urge shoppers and retailers to contribute by staying vigilant and reporting any concerns promptly,” Law said, adding, “Colonie Center is a family center and we want to keep it that way for years to come.”
Albany County Sheriff Criag Apple said that shoplifting is the low hanging fruit and the state needs to immediately address it.
“People are afraid to come out of their houses or go to malls. People are afraid to go shopping,” Apple said. “That’s sad.”
Shoplifting can be dangerous to other customers, as well as employees who try to stop it, Apple added.
“People are seeing it; they’re frustrated, and we don’t want people to take the law into their own hands. We want to do it,” he said. “So I need the state, I need the Senate, I need the governor, I need the Assembly. We need to get out there and change some of these laws.”
Apple said that one of the most “hit” stores in the Capital District for shoplifting thefts is Macy’s in Colonie Center. One man was arrested 22 times in 2023 and currently has seven active warrants for his arrest because he did not show up for court.
Under the current bail laws, even if a person is charged with grand larceny, judges cannot set bail. They have to be released within a few hours, no matter how many cases are open against them.
“It’s not about politics, it’s about keeping people safe,” Apple added. “It’s unfortunate that you can’t keep your business open because of theft.”
Albany County Legislator Paul Burgdorf said he sees stores with the simplest items – toothpaste and deodorant – behind locked doors and many merchants deciding that they can no longer make it in that atmosphere.
He said that if it continues, there won’t be as many open at late hours and people may have to order their products online from Amazon.
“If we don’t make use of these sensible bail reforms or theft reforms, we’re going to lose local stores, and billions of dollars are going to be passed on to the consumer,” he said.
“This is a unified bipartisan message, and what we heard from the Governor was that ‘the chaos must end.’ That’s what she said about retail crime during the State of the State Address and on that much, we can agree,” Ashby said. “It is chaos, and people and communities are feeling it every day.”
This was featured on page 1 of the February 7, 2024 print edition of The Spotlight.