District Attorney Larry Krasner intends to rewrite his office’s policies around prosecuting retail theft in an effort to counter what he described as the “false narrative” that shoplifters are not punished in Philadelphia.
In 2018, early in his tenure, Krasner instructed his attorneys to charge most thefts involving less than $500 worth of merchandise as a summary offenses – a category that carries more lenient punishments than a misdemeanors or felonies. Though summary offenses can result jail terms of up to 90 days, they are usually settled after the suspect pays a fine.
The policy has come under fire in recent months from City Council members, who have spoken about a widespread belief that minor shoplifting has been decriminalized. Krasner has repeatedly refuted that claim.
During a news conference Monday, the DA said a new retail theft policy will be finalized and publicly released “in the next seven to 10 business days.”
“Our new policy will take that distraction away by not referring to a particular dollar amount,” Krasner said. “We realize that the language has been misrepresented, and we don’t want there to be any confusion about what the policy is.”
He told reporters the revamped policy will focus on fences – criminals buying and selling large amounts of stolen goods – and prolific shoplifters. It will also seek to offer treatment to those stealing to support a drug addiction, Krasner said.
News of the forthcoming policy change came during an event in West Philadelphia marking the launch of the DAO’s Organized Retail and House Theft Task Force. House theft refers to criminals committing deed fraud and other offenses to wrestle a property away from the rightful owner or their descendants.
Assistant District Attorney Kim Esack, who is supervising the task force, said the team includes three prosecutors, and they are in the process of adding two more. The DAO is also looking to hire a sixth attorney, she added.
Krasner said a meeting with business owners is scheduled for Feb. 26 to introduce them to members of the task force. It will be the first of a series of private and public townhalls focused on retail theft, he added.
Funding for the task force was incorporated in a budget transfer bill Council passed in December. During a hearing on the legislation, lawmakers pressed Krasner on the $500 shoplifting policy and criticized his office for piloting the task force in Center City.
Mayor Cherelle Parker, in one of her first acts in office, signed an executive order declaring a “public safety emergency” that directed new Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel to, among other tasks, develop a plan to reduce quality-of-life and property crimes, including shoplifting.
Reports of retail theft rose 27% last year compared to 2022, and the number of incidents has nearly doubled since 2021, according to police department data.