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3.13.24 – TOPEKA, Kan. (KWCH) – By Rachel Hallam and Matt Heilman

The Kansas legislature held a hearing Tuesday morning on Senate Bill 415, a proposed law that would recognize organized retail theft as an official crime and increase the penalties

“It’s a big problem and oddly, Kansas remains one of the top 10 states in terms of dollar value stolen,” Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach said.

If passed, Senate Bill 415 would create harsher penalties for crimes in which thefts from stores extend well beyond smaller shoplifting cases. Kobach said this is a pressing matter with retail crime numbers reaching $41 billion since 2022.

“Organized retail crime involves stealing large quantities of expensive items and selling them for resale, and typically sold on the web,” Kobach explained.

The bill would also include these crimes within the definition of “racketeering.”

“We want to include all of the offenses, again, so that we can deter this type of crime, which is continuing to grow. It’s not shrinking,” Kobach said.

Kobach and Kansas Chamber Vice President of Government Affairs Eric Stafford emphasized that this is a prevalent issue, especially with the use of technology.

“It’s happening. It’s easy to happen with technology, but they’re taking advantage of individuals to make this happen,” Stafford said.

Those opposing the bill say the language needs to be tailored, adding that as it stands, the bill will target vulnerable people and not ringleaders in organized crime.

“It makes me wonder if continuing to create more serious crimes and more special crime rules if it’s really solving our problem. Or is it that we’re maybe not going to be able to sort of exclusively charge and prosecute and incarcerate people, incarcerate our way out of these problems that are deeply rooted,” said BIDS legislative committee (Kansas State Board of Indigents’ Defense Services) Co-Chair Jennifer Roth.