Soaring crime is a continuing problem in Houston and around the country. But it's not just violent crime like murders and armed robberies on the rise. So-called "property crimes" like burglary and theft have seen a huge increase in the past couple of years, so much that business owners are resorting to desperate means to defend themselves. Some stores are locking up entire sections, while one Houston restaurant owner has been sleeping in his business after multiple break-ins.
The numbers don't lie. Target alone reported a 50% increase in shoplifting last year, leading to $400 million in losses. Overall, the National Retail Federation says retail theft cost businesses $94.5 billion last year. As for what's behind these staggering numbers, critics say it's fairly simple---liberal, soft-on-crime policies.
Andy Kahan, director of victims services for Houston Crime Stoppers, says the problem starts with calling thefts and burglaries "property crimes." "Because they're labeled as non-violent, (offenders) get in and out of jail quickly," he tells KTRH. "So even if they are caught and even if they are convicted, they're not going to get a lengthy prison sentence."
"That's why when you go into stores, you see sections that are locked up," Kahan continues. "Simply because people just come in and steal, and they know nothing is going to happen to them."
Kahan and Crime Stoppers have repeatedly advocated for stronger punishment to act as a deterrent to property crimes. "We've got to start putting some teeth into the penalties against offenders who commit these types of crimes," he says. "And the message has to get out."
These crimes also cost honest customers, who end up having to shop for locked merchandise or pay higher prices. One report found nearly half of small businesses said they raised prices last year due to shoplifting losses.
"Right now, it's simple economics---risk versus reward," says Kahan. "There is very little risk for offenders who commit property crimes, and obviously there is a lot of rewards."