WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach says organized retail crime has been on the rise across the nation, and Kansas is one of the worst states for the crime.
Across the nation, the numbers have increased rapidly over the last five years.
“In pre-2019, typically, you might see around $60 billion worth of merchandise being stolen by these organized retail gangs or organizations,” Kobach said. “Now, it’s over $500 billion worth of merchandise every year.”
Senate Bill 174 was recently passed in Topeka. Beginning July 1, the Attorney General’s office will be the primary prosecutor in the state rather than the district or county attorney.
The bill includes a category of cases that involve a series of crimes in multiple counties.
“That’s typically how these organized retail crime networks work,” Kobach said. “They’re not just operating in one county. They’re hitting store after store after store, and they’re crossing county lines. And so in a case like that, it’s more appropriate to bring the greater resources of the Kansas Attorney General’s Office rather than expect one county to prosecute when you’ve got a criminal gang operating in multiple counties in a single day.”
In the meantime, there is an organized retail crime task force with law enforcement and retailers.
“Having their cooperation, their help in terms of surveillance, even retailers have all kinds of evidence about past crimes that are likely to be very helpful in prosecuting future crimes,” Kobach said. “So getting that information from the retailer so that we can help them is already something we’re doing.”
He says the goal at his office is to send a message to the organized retail crime networks that they will get prosecuted.
“We are going to catch you, and we are going to go after you, and we’re going to throw the book at you in terms of penalties,” Kobach said. “You know, oftentimes, prosecutors have limited resources, and those resources will go to murder cases and cases where people are injured.”
He says they will be going after organized retail crime aggressively in Kansas.
“Don’t come to our state and target our box stores,” Kobach said. “The message we are sending in Kansas is one of deterrence, and that is, look, if you are part of an organized retail crime gang, and you target Kansas stores, we are gonna go after you. We don’t overlook retail crime here in Kansas. We don’t overlook fact, here in Kansas, you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Kobach says he has seen the issue most prominent in northeast Kansas. But it is happening across the state, including Wichita.
“They’re looking for a concentrated amount of really expensive stuff that they can steal quickly, so it tends to be areas that have those stores,” Kobach said.
Sgt. Trevor McDonald with the Wichita Police Department says retail crime in Wichita is up by 35% this year.
He says the that increase can be separated into two categories: shoplifters paying for an addiction and organized retail crime.
McDonald says the primary shoplifter in Wichita is an addict trying to fund their addiction.
He says this is something that impacts everyone.
“Just because they’re stealing from a retailer doesn’t mean that it’s not affecting each and every one of us because the dollar has to come from somewhere,” McDonald said.
He says the increase is a large concern for WPD. There is a group of detectives and crime analysts working to put a stop to this trend.