Combating Organized Retail Theft with Grant Funding: Strategies and Solutions

by | July 1, 2024

Organized retail theft — also known as organized retail crime (or ORC) — has seen a significant spike in the past several years, impacting communities nationwide. Unlike petty shoplifting, these crimes are orchestrated by criminal rings that steal large quantities of goods from businesses with the intent to resell them. This rise in theft has prompted legislative and law enforcement actions at both the federal and state levels. Grant funds are becoming an essential tool in efforts to fight the problem, providing the necessary resources to tackle organized retail theft effectively.

The Scope of the Problem

Organized retail theft differs from individual shoplifting in both scale and sophistication. These criminal groups often employ violence and advanced tactics to maximize their haul. For example, in an October 2023 theft in a Nashville Nordstrom store, at least five robbers deployed bear spray to facilitate the theft of about $60,000 in merchandise. According to a Forbes story from the same month, “88% of retailers reported that shoplifters are more aggressive and violent now compared with a year ago, including 49% who said they have observed ‘much more’ violent and aggressive behavior.”

Authorities say perpetrators of organized retail theft frequently cross state lines to exploit outdated prosecution and sentencing laws. These loopholes allow them to operate with relative impunity, accumulating vast quantities of stolen goods which they then sell to unsuspecting customers on various online platforms as legitimate merchandise.

The effects of this crime wave are far-reaching. Not only do these thefts lead to financial losses for businesses, but they also result in increased prices for consumers and, in some cases, the closure of retail locations. A significant percentage of small businesses have reported raising prices due to shoplifting, highlighting the broader economic impact of organized retail theft. According to a 2023 report by the National Retail Federation (NRF), when retailers were asked how they are responding to the problem:

  • 45.3% reduced specific store operating hours
  • 29.7% reduced or altered in-store product selections
  • 28.1% reported closing a specific store location or locations

“Retailers are seeing unprecedented levels of theft coupled with rampant crime in their stores, and the situation is only becoming more dire,” said David Johnston, vice president of asset protection and retail operations for the NRF. “Far beyond the financial impact of these crimes, the violence and concerns over safety continue to be the priority for all retailers, regardless of size or category.”

Legislative and Law Enforcement Responses

Recognizing the severity of the issue, state and federal legislatures have initiated actions to strengthen the fight against organized retail theft. More than a dozen states have launched organized task forces that collaborate with private companies and law enforcement agencies to combat the scourge of organized retail theft. These task forces aim to address the theft problem comprehensively, from street-level thefts to the fencing networks that facilitate the resale of stolen goods.

In Alabama, for instance, the Retail Crime Prevention Act has been enacted to enhance the punishment for these crimes. Similarly, in California, the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) awarded over $267 million to local law enforcement agencies to combat the retail crime wave, demonstrating a significant commitment to pushing back against the growing problem.

Case Study: Greenwich, CT

Greenwich, Connecticut, with its high-end retail stores and proximity to Interstate 95, has been a frequent target for organized shoplifters. The local police department has formed an anti-theft crime unit, resulting in the arrest of 46 suspects involved in retail theft during the first half of 2024, matching the total number of arrests for the entire year of 2022. These arrests were facilitated by advanced technologies such as surveillance cameras, license plate readers, and facial recognition software.

However, these efforts come at a cost. Investments in security inevitably lead to higher prices for consumers, and the use of surveillance technology often prompts concerns among civil liberties advocates regarding privacy infringement.

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The Role of Grant Funding

Grant funding plays a crucial role in equipping law enforcement agencies with the tools and resources needed to combat organized retail theft effectively. These funds can be used for a variety of purposes, including the purchase of technology and equipment such as license plate readers, surveillance cameras and other necessary gear for task force officers. Grants also cover overtime reimbursement for multi-agency operations, the hiring of civilian investigators, and dedicated crime and intelligence analysts.

A prime example was the Organized Retail Theft Grant Program in Oregon. This program aimed to provide financial assistance to agencies and organizations to combat organized retail theft in the state. The grant prioritized applications that demonstrate the ability to address theft that poses a physical risk to employees and the public, identify and dismantle fencing networks, and collaborate with retailers and law enforcement agencies. Here are a few more details about the Oregon program:

  • Application Due Date: July 1, 2024 (closed)
  • Purpose: To assist local law enforcement, the Oregon State Police, and community-based organizations in addressing and prosecuting organized retail theft.
  • Eligible Applicants: Units of local government, the Oregon State Police, and community-based organizations.
  • Program Goals: Reduce organized retail theft, address theft-related violence, dismantle fencing networks, and collaborate with stakeholders.
  • Funding Availability: $5,000,000 total for the period from April 1, 2024, to June 30, 2025.
  • By providing the necessary funding, this grant program supports the purchase of technology, equipment, and the hiring of specialized personnel, ensuring a comprehensive approach to combating organized retail theft.

While the application period for this program has passed, it provides a great example of how various states and jurisdictions are earmarking grant funds to help agencies and organizations fight this pernicious threat.


Organized retail theft is a growing menace that requires a coordinated and well-resourced response. Grant funding is an invaluable tool in this fight, enabling law enforcement agencies to invest in advanced technologies, hire specialized personnel, and conduct thorough investigations. As states like Oregon and California have demonstrated, targeted funding can significantly bolster efforts to reduce these crimes and protect communities. With continued support and strategic use of grant funds, the fight against organized retail theft can make significant strides, ensuring safer communities and more secure retail environments.

Lexipol’s research team is tracking these resources in GrantFinder, our grant search tool. Our team of expert grant writers, researchers and project managers is invested in providing law enforcement grant services as well as grant assistance for fire, EMS, dispatch, corrections and local government organizations. Let us build a custom grants solution for you!

Samantha Dorm joined Lexipol full time in 2014, having previously served as a consultant for the grant division since 2010. Sam has been instrumental in providing grant writing guidance to public safety and non-profit agencies throughout the United States, as well as providing instruction on statistical compilation, analysis, and program development. In 1999, she was hired by a Pennsylvania District Attorney's Office. Since that time, Samantha has worked directly with government agencies to acquire over $40M of funding for various programs. Sam is a reviewer for several Federal agencies and instructs grant writing workshops.

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