Pandemic is a root cause of organized retail crime: Is Jen Psaki right?

Tyler LaRiviere / Sun-Times

Fact Box

  • On December 2, 2021, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki stated the COVID-19 pandemic was “a root cause” of organized looting cases around the country in a White House press briefing. She also mentioned guns and gun violence as another root cause. 
  • In the press briefing, Psaki mentioned President Biden’s proposal to “increase and support local police departments [...] ensure that local communities are working in partnership to crack down on crime and any dangers they see in their community.”
  • In recent weeks, “smash-and-grab” robberies have been taking place across the US in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Minneapolis
  • According to Pew Research Center, the annual rate of inflation in the US hit 6.2% in October 2021, which is the highest it's been in three decades. 
  • The FBI reported 538,203 violent-crime incidents in 2020, and 640,836 offenses reported by law enforcement agencies in the US. 
  • As of December 3, 2021, there have been 48.8 million COVID cases in the United States, with 783,215 reported deaths. Of the population, 198.2 have been fully vaccinated which is 59.7%.

Hanna (Yes)

While organized theft isn't a new idea, the recent spike in retail theft is no coincidence. Initially, the pandemic caused businesses—particularly in the entertainment and restaurant industry—to temporarily shut down to slow the spread of disease, causing more than 20,000 businesses to close during the first year of COVID's outbreak due to bankruptcy. This put millions of Americans out of work and onto unemployment, where they would then struggle to live off of government assistance. In just three months, the unemployment rate surpassed the Great Recession by a full two years, creating economic uncertainty and civil unrest. Along with the influx of unemployed Americans, government programs are also ending, leaving citizens to fend for themselves. Pandemic relief checks have been gone for months, and food aid programs like SNAP have reduced their assistance. To top it all off, inflation (which was greatly caused by the pandemic) has affected the cost of food and other necessities, which these Americans cannot afford.

So with inflation rising, unemployment stagnant, and government programs closing and reducing, it has created the perfect storm for organized retail crime to spike. 54 million Americans will struggle with hunger this year, which is a disheartening 45% increase from last year. This can explain why the theft of food staples has been rising, meaning many of these lower-end crimes could be out of desperation to care for themselves and their families. People participating in organized retail theft are taking this opportunity to resell items that will go towards things like food or rent. While looting is wrong, it is an obviously desirable choice when one is struggling to survive. The pandemic is absolutely the cause of these recent spikes in theft and shouldn't be ignored.


Curtice (No)

Jen Psaki recently claimed the COVID-19 pandemic is the 'root cause' for the rapid increase in retail crime, in particular the smash-and-grab thefts that have been in the news recently. At practically the same time, Psaki and the Biden administration have also been claiming that inflation is a good thing because they believe it means the American people have plenty of money to spend, so demand for goods has gone up. Unfortunately, they can't have it both ways. If people have more money, then why do people feel the need to loot stores?

The pandemic is not the problem. Retail crime is on the rise because there are few, if any, consequences. For example, California's Prop 47, passed five years ago, essentially gives thieves and shoplifters a free pass if the amount of merchandise stolen is $950 or less. How can that do anything but encourage retail theft? It certainly explains why retail theft has been a particular problem in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Jose.  

The political Left has aimed to defund and handicap the police by keeping them from doing their job of protecting the public through firings (due to vaccine mandates) and decreasing the budget, which affects their salaries. These changes around law enforcement have emboldened criminals. The riots of summer 2020 show this—burning of policy precincts looting and destroying retail establishments—not condemned and often downplayed, if not outright supported by the city, state, and national leaders, politicians, and the media. That sends a message to would-be criminals that criminal activity is condoned and even justified. The results are predictable. If society truly wants to reduce retail crime, it should arrest, charge, and incarcerate the perpetrators.

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