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County Attorney addresses retail theft trend. Here's her plan to fight it

Maricopa County will now have a specialized force to fight retail theft and the violence it brings with it.

MARICOPA COUNTY, Ariz. — The Maricopa County Attorney's Office announced a new task force Wednesday to tackle retail theft across the county. 

The task force will bring a specialized group of prosecutors to handle theft cases and an investigator to work with local law enforcement to coordinate prosecutions. They will collaborate with the Arizona Retailer's Association. 

County Attorney Rachel Mitchell said this issue causes a ripple effect across the state. 

“We need somebody to coordinate that so that we can see the cumulative effort and have a consistent and all-encompassing investigation and prosecution."

Mitchell said a 2019 study by the Retail Industry Leaders Association found Arizona had over $2.4 billion worth of goods stolen. This kind of theft causes store closures, lost wages, and jobs.

Mitchell said losses due to theft, in addition to inflation and supply chain issues, are a big contributor to Arizona's current increase in prices.

She said it's important to be proactive in light of rising retail thefts in other large cities nationwide. 

The Executive Director of the Arizona Retailer's Association, Michelle Ahlmer, said they are seeing robberies involving guns, knives and bear spray putting both the businesses and customers in danger. 

Ahlmer believes most of this activity comes from organized retail theft, which is more complicated than the common shoplifter.

"We need to stop that behavior at the store level, but we also need defense. We need to find out who is organizing it.. and cut the head off the snake," she said.

Mitchell said she is confident that the initiative will help stop the increasing violence involving retail theft. 

Mitchell's opponent in the upcoming primary election, Gina Godbehere (R), shared a statement with 12News in response to the announcement.

“The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office has historically assigned dedicated attorneys to work in partnership with the Arizona Retail Association. Today’s announcement is nothing new and more of the same,” Godbehere said.

She accused the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office of not utilizing a law allowing prosecutors to crack down on repeat shoplifting offenders.

“The unilateral decision to not file these charges has made our communities less safe and shifted costs to local municipalities. Nonetheless, I am pleased to see after months of me pointing this out on the campaign trail, my opponent is finally starting to take a closer look at this troublesome issue,” Godbehere said.

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