MAR. 14, 2016 • BY JON HURST

Maybe crime really does pay. At least it would under legislation recently passed by the Massachusetts Senate which increases the felony threshold contained in a number of our property crime statutes from $250 to $1,500. It allows fraudsters to run up $1,499 in charges on your credit card and thieves to steal or destroy up to $1,499 of your personal property with no risk of receiving meaningful repercussions. It also emboldens professional and sophisticated criminals who treat theft as a low risk, high reward activity due to our already weak criminal laws. It essentially decreases their cost of doing business while increasing the price you pay for consumer goods.

Annually, the Massachusetts retail industry loses an estimated $750 million in stolen merchandise, potentially worth $46.8 million in lost sales tax revenue. A cost shared by you in the form of higher prices—approximately $400 per household. The majority of these losses are attributed to organized crime rings using proceeds to fund other criminal activities including drug trafficking, arms dealing and even terrorism.

For these criminals, the only deterrent is the threat of meaningful prison time. Fines alone are inadequate as the proceeds of their day’s “work” more than covers any potential fine levied. Yet this proposal makes it harder for courts to impose such sentences and instead authorizes the theft of higher valued merchandise—a positive net gain for these thieves.

It also renders Massachusetts a regional and national outlier. Regionally, only Rhode Island has adopted a larceny threshold as high as $1,500—our other neighboring states fall below $1,000 and the national average is even lower. Due to the reduced risk, states with the highest felony thresholds become more attractive targets.

Recognizing these issues, Massachusetts adopted an Organized Retail Crime statute in 2014. However, the criminal statutes amended in the Senate’s proposal remain the primary theft prevention tools for law enforcement and prosecutors. By increasing the felony thresholds, the proposal decreases their effectiveness. It is a giant step backwards and exposes the Senate as being weak on crime.

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