FILE - Retail sales tax cash register

(The Center Square) – New Mexico businesses are calling attention to organized retail shoplifting, pointing out a growing need for more stringent measures to deter this kind of crime.

In a recent committee meeting, a panel of state lawmakers listened to concerns from interested parties, including Albuquerque police and Home Depot, and the effect it’s having on businesses.

Patrick Block, lobbyist for the New Mexico Retail Association, said it has been getting a lot of attention lately.

“One of the things that has happened in New Mexico recently is the attorney general has been working with the Albuquerque Police Department and some of our retail association members on a task force to provide a little more effort in the area, and that got some good press,” he told The Center Square.

It appears to be a growing issue, according to Block.

While it has always been a problem, the advent of online marketplaces has made the pace of this particular crime pick up, he said.

“What you’re seeing now is that there are more easily accessible ways to resell the stolen products with things like Amazon Marketplace, Craigslist, eBay – all these online platforms, and the degree of anonymity sellers have been able to have in the past,” he said.

Block said the magnitude of the problem nationally is in the billions of dollars, and in New Mexico it is well into the millions.

As retail stores experience these losses, they are passed on to the consumer by higher prices, he adds.

“So it does impact everybody, not just the retailer, not just the folks committing the crimes,” Block said. “As a result, prices go up to make up for those losses, to pay for more security.”

In Albuquerque, police officers will not arrest shoplifters due to an outdated rule formulated to reduce prison crowding, according to Block.

Block said crowding is no longer a problem, so enforcement needs to change.

One measure businesses are hoping to see across the state is the severity of the charge for shoplifting shifted up from a misdemeanor to a felony in some cases.

“As long as you stay under the $500 limit, it’s still a misdemeanor even if you do it every day for a year and you’re caught,” he said. “It’s still a misdemeanor even though the aggregate amount of the crime is substantial. So what we’re looking at is a change in law that would allow for aggregation of multiple offenses.”

Block said they are also looking at legislation that would reduce the level of anonymity available to online sellers. Providing resources to prosecutors and the attorney general is also important, notes Block.