The Federal Government Is Ramping Up Anti-Retail Theft Efforts
“It’s a crime that’s occurring out in our streets that is becoming large enough where the federal government is announcing its involvement,” said a top DHS official.
The federal government is augmenting its efforts to counter organized retail crime, which leads to almost $70 billion in losses per year.
Organized retail crime is the large-scale theft targeting retailers with the goal to resell the items for profit that has increasingly become a threat to the economy and public safety and has increased due to prevalence of the e-commerce marketplace. Officials from Homeland Security Investigations and the Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists announced on Wednesday a partnership to combat organized retail crime as well as an educational guide for law enforcement officials, financial crime investigators and others.
“We’re here announcing the federal government’s role in [fighting] organized retail crime. It’s a crime that’s occurring out in our streets that is becoming large enough where the federal government is announcing its involvement,” said Tom Welch, unit chief of the Homeland Security Investigations Financial Crimes Unit, at a media event hosted Wednesday by Ialmmigration and Customs Enforcement, which houses the investigations unit. “Clearly, we've been involved for a while, but this is our outreach because we need your help. The federal government cannot handle anything by itself.”
The partnership with the association of anti-money laundering specialists is a “great example.” Homeland Security Investigations has also partnered with the Coalition of Law Enforcement and Retail (CLEAR). This is in addition to the agency’s work with federal, state and local enforcement partners, financial institutions, retailers and the public, Welch added.
The investigations unit “has developed Operating Boiling Point in response to the rise of [retail crime], increase of organized theft groups (known as OTGs) and the increase of supply chain security threats,” said Maria Michel-Manzo, division chief for the unit’s Financial and Fraud Division. “Through Operation Boiling Point HSI aims to increase its public-private partnerships like we have built with ACAMS and CLEAR and develop actionable investigative and intelligence leads from information received from the public, law enforcement, financial institutions and retailers to disrupt and dismantle [organized retail crime] and [organized theft group] organizations and lastly to develop a robust public awareness campaign, like this one today.”
The 53- page guide outlines the following three principles for effectively combating organized retail crime and organized theft groups: bringing financial institutions into the public awareness and education efforts (alongside law enforcement and retailers); establishing public-private partnerships and information sharing among the groups; and bolstering anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing programs in organized retail crime investigations.
Government Executive asked during the event how many personnel Homeland Security Investigations has dedicated to organized retail crime and if that is enough, and what more the agency would like from Congress in terms of personnel or funding.
Homeland Security Investigations has 30 field offices in the United States and over 80 field locations globally, said Michel-Manzo. “Staffing is an issue and we’ve been asking Congress as much as we can when they ask for [the unit’s] input for more staffing, so we can keep up with our uniform partners,” she continued. “As they grow, we need to grow too because we are the investigative arm of DHS and we do respond to all our uniform officers.”
Right now, all Homeland Security Investigations field offices are working with their task forces (with federal, state and/or local officials) to combat organized retail crime, Michel-Manzo added. She also noted that the new guide has several case studies for investigations the unit has worked on.
Following up on those remarks, Lauren Kohr, senior director of anti-money laundering in the Americas at ACAMS, underscored the importance of the partnerships. Countering organized retail crime is a “whole front approach and not just one agency,” she said.
The fiscal 2022 appropriations package provided $2.27 billion for Homeland Security Investigations, which was an increase of $128.7 million above the fiscal 2021 enacted level. President Biden’s budget request for fiscal 2023 proposes $2.3 billion for the unit.