Repeat shoplifters a drug store challenge

Community News Group/Alex Mitchell

Bronx chain drug stores have seen an influx of customers; there’s just one little problem – they’re not paying.

Recently in Morris Park, a man, while being arrested for shoplifting at the local Rite Aid mouthed off to police, “I’m just going to be back here tomorrow.”

It’s less than shocking that this wasn’t his first time in handcuffs.

Repeat shoplifters have been plaguing these Bronx businesses for some time now.

Despite being arrested numerous times, the perps continue to target the same stores over and over again.

“Usually, these petty thefts result in either a ticket or summons which tend to be ignored, which is why shoplifters are so quick to be back at it,” said 49th Precinct Community Council president Joe Thompson.

He also mentioned how it’s difficult to prove shoplifting while the suspect is still in the store, especially for the larger chain pharmacies.

Workers from both Rite Aid on Morris Park Avenue and Walgreens at Westchester Square reported that they are victimized by the same individuals day after day.

“If the shoplifter is stopped before they leave the store they can claim bias and then the store is at risk of a lawsuit. The only way for the store to prove it is being robbed is to chase the culprit down the street, which puts the employees at risk,” Thompson said.

He also mentioned that most shoplifters tend to come from the immediate area of the store, or are homeless people loitering in the viscinity that day.

It’s getting to the point that some people come into the chain drug stores with their own bags, casually fill them with merchandise, make a minor purchase and then nonchalantly walk out of the store with their free ‘haul’ like any other paying customer.

Hygienic products in particular are frequently taken via ‘five-finger’ discount.

Lisa Sorin, executive director of the Westchester Square Business Improvement District is well aware of the ongoing issues of shoplifting in the area and has established a ‘rogue’s gallery’ of repeat shoplifters.

“We’ve got pictures of 8 to 10 people posted that keep shoplifting and stealing from these stores,” Sorin said, while mentioning that the problem has improved somewhat since the BID hired private security. The area has witnessed a great reduction in shoplifting since the summer of 2017, she said.

Community Board 11 chairman Al D’Angelo and other community leaders says that this is not a police issue, but rather one that stems from the Bronx District Attorney’s office letting shoplifters back on the streets with a slap on the wrist.

The DA’s office did not respond to our calls before this issue went to print.

“This is a systematic failure, these people are coming out [of the court system] without even a slap on the hand. They have had more then a second chance, more needs to be done,” said Councilmember Mark Gjonaj.

The councilman offered solutions to the growing epidemic: working closely with the police and attending the hearings and trials of shoplifters, as ways the community can put pressure on the system.

“It’s at the court level though, that’s where progress has to be made. As a community we must be vocal,” he added.

As far as raising voices goes, Bernadette Ferrara, president of the Van Nest Neighborhood Alliance has called for a meeting with Gjonaj, the 49th Precinct and other stakeholders to tackle this perennial quality-of-life issue.

“This isn’t about pointing fingers but instead about creating a solution. This problem isn’t news. It has been going on as long as I can remember and it’s time to do something. People will leave our neighborhoods if this isn’t stopped,” Ferrara said.

Chain drug stores are frequently targeted by shoplifters.
Community News Group/Alex Mitchell

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