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New York state legislator reintroduces bill meant to crack down on retail theft

New York State Senator Jake Ashby at Colonie Center discussing a bill meant to curb retail theft
Samantha Simmons
New York State Senator Jake Ashby at Colonie Center Thursday discussing a bill meant to curb retail theft

Democrats and Republicans at the state capitol in Albany agree that retail crime should be addressed this year. But are butting heads on how to approach it.

“In the State Legislature, we don't need to wait for the budget to act,” Ashby said. “In fact, it doesn't cost a dime to fix these laws.”

New York state Senator Jake Ashby was at Colonie Center Thursday advocating for legislation meant to combat organized retail crime.

The Republican from the 43rd district says the legislation would crack down on repeat offenders. Introduced last summer with Democratic Assembly member Angelo Santabarbara of the 111th district, the bipartisan bill could strengthen penalties by allowing judges to upgrade petit larceny charges to fourth degree grand larceny after two convictions within three months, or three convictions within a year, according to Ashby.

Ashby says as retail theft continues to rise, so do prices — threatening jobs and customers.

“Instead of a slap on the wrist, they'd be looking at real jail time. That's just part of the solution,” Ashby said. “Criminal penalties don't mean much if an offender is released after their arraignment, and has no incentive to show up for court. Time after time, they're just stealing again.”

Ashby says addressing other issues like addiction and mental health also play a role in protecting the public.

“I'm all for the investments in education, mental health, and addiction treatment that in the long term will make our community safer,” Ashby said. “But what about right now? We need to fix these laws and keep the social fabric of our communities from coming apart.”

For her part, in her budget proposal, Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul proposes a retail theft task force headed by the state police. Hochul says across the state, property crime is down 2 percent, but larceny is up 3 percent. Hochul’s proposal includes a dedicated team tasked with building cases against organized crime and creating a Commercial Security Tax Credit that could help businesses offset security costs.

Ashby says that’s not enough.

“We've heard this before with other task forces and other ideas that you know, she's thrown out there. We can't afford to just keep doing this. You know, there is a way to fix this. And it's not throwing money at it, it's not generating another task force. It's fixing the law.”

Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple says police can’t fix the problem on their own, they need the help of state and local governments.

“We can't be everywhere,” Apple said. “We're getting calls constantly from different businesses like ‘you need to help me I've called the local police.’ And, you know, when they arrest the same guy, everything else. We don't want people to take it in the wrong hands. But if the law was a little stiffer, right, and I'm not even saying two or three times, I'm saying let's change it now. So, you get arrested, you go in, we have to stop this madness. So, if you want to steal, you're gonna go do time. That's it, short and sweet. And I understand that it's nonviolent, but it's not victimless.”

Apple says businesses can’t afford it.

“My wife is a small business owner and I know if I lost the $1,000, I've got to make that up somewhere. So, I mean, I know small businesses are suffering,” Apple said. “Big businesses can swallow a little bit of a loss, but it doesn't make it right.

Albany County Legislator Paul Burgdorf, a Republican from the 23rd District, has one message:

“If we can make these proposals reality, products will cost less, because we won't have as many billions of dollars stolen from retail merchants that have to be made up by taxpayers,” Burgdorf said. “And we won't have as many vacant stores that you used to go to.”

Colonie Center shopper Daniel Holmes says he hasn’t noticed any impacts.

“I don’t care about it. That’s not my business,” Holmes said. “I ain’t winning and I ain’t losing. I ain’t benefiting.”

Samantha joined the WAMC staff after interning during her final semester at the University at Albany. A Troy native, she looks forward to covering what matters most to those in her community. Aside from working, Samantha enjoys spending time with her friends, family, and cat. She can be reached by phone at (518)-465-5233 Ext. 211 or by email at ssimmons@wamc.org.