COLUMBUS, Ohio — When former Congressman Steve Stivers left Washington D.C. to head the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, he didn’t realize crime would be at the top of his agenda. That’s what the majority of the 8,000 members that make up the chamber are telling him.
“We're hearing about inflation and supply chain, but the other thing that I didn't expect to hear from and about is crime,” said Stivers. “We're hearing about both retail theft and violent crime as issues of concern. We did a poll [late] last year, 62% of businesses said they may not expand in Ohio as a result of crime in Ohio. That's a staggering figure and it's impacting our economic climate. And that's when we decided to create a Crime Task Force.”
The Crime Task Force is set to meet by the end of this month. Former U.S. Attorney Dave DeVillers is the chair of the task force, and retired Judge Scott VanDerKarr sits on the committee.
Stivers tells 10TV they are trying to get ahead of retail theft and violent crime to prevent corporations from moving out of the state. The committee’s recommendations will be forwarded to the Ohio Legislature.
Stivers says they are targeting organized crime rings by aggregating misdemeanors, and pooling together criminal history if the suspect may have hit several stores within the same day or week and prosecuting it as a felony case. The Crime Task Force is also looking into charges for juveniles involved in organized crime to be charged as adults.
“If you could aggregate those and allow them to go to one prosecutor, to prosecute one case, that then becomes a felony case. And we also want to get some help from the Attorney General, to prosecute some of those crimes where the local and county prosecutors need it,” said Stivers. “We're excited about allowing the county prosecutor to assist, not step on anybody, but come in and assist with those crimes and prosecuting those, We think it can take people off the street, that are perpetrating a lot of that crime.”
Local law enforcement believes prosecution is a part of the puzzle, but more needs to happen to prevent retail theft.
“Policing is a distinct piece of it, prosecution is a key component, sanctions,” said Property Crimes Bureau Commander Alex Behnen of the Columbus Division of Police. “We have to have people stop buying items that are likely stolen. We have to have people in the retail industry continue to do what they're doing, which is to make the items harder to steal. And we have to have people within our organization and other law enforcement organizations be able to investigate and charge those responsible.
The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office has seen an uptick in retail crimes in the past two years, according to Detective Sarah Spencer.
“It's very quickly getting to the point that things have to be locked up,” said Detective Spencer. “I do think that harsher, harsher penalties would definitely deter them.”
The latest retail theft the FCSO is investigating happened at the Bath and Body Works on Olentangy River Road, where two women are suspected of taking more than $1,000 worth of merchandise. More information from this incident was posted to the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page.