MARICOPA COUNTY, Ariz. - Organized retail theft is on the rise as the holiday season gets underway, and we've learned it’s a felony being prosecuted more than ever in Maricopa County.
The number of organized retail theft cases submitted to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (MCAO) has already surpassed last year’s total.
Surveillance videos continue to show how brazen thieves can get while targeting retail stores.
Surveillance images show Lili Cisneros stealing from a retail store. She's seen placing items in luggage bags she also stole.
Cisneros is now serving a little more than three years in prison after pleading guilty to theft. Investigators say she came to the Valley with a crew from California to commit the crimes.
"Other states have chosen not to prosecute below a certain amount. We have not done that here, so not only will we prosecute, but we will put the amounts together, ask for a bond, and require prison time if appropriate," Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell said.
Her office has received 324 cases of organized retail theft from law enforcement agencies this year, and the holiday season is not over. In 2022, MCAO received 301 cases.
In November 2023 alone, there were 22 cases sentenced for retail theft.
Does Mitchell think we could see more cases submitted next year?
"I think you’re gonna see a curtailing of the number, at least that’s my hope, by holding people accountable, by getting the message out, that they will be held accountable and sentenced appropriately," she said.
In October, Phoenix Police arrested two California women for allegedly stealing more than $24,000 worth of merchandise.
Police say Ishanae Turner and Devony Reneau went through 12 pharmacies, grocery and cosmetic stores across the Valley. Prosecutors believe the women are responsible for retail thefts in California and Nevada as well.
Mike Huckins is the senior VP of the Greater Phoenix Chamber, which represents 2,400 businesses.
"Organized retail theft is definitely on their minds, especially as more and more shoppers frequent stores at this busy time of year for holiday shoppers," he said.
Just a week ago, FOX 10 cameras caught the arrests of three women who police say loaded three shopping carts with merchandise at Marshall’s inside the Desert Ridge Marketplace.
Huckins says these crimes cost business owners in more ways than one.
"2019, it was estimated to be about a $1.4 billion impact on retailers. This year, four years later, you can only imagine the size of it, much more than that number," he said.
As for tips for employees and business owners, Huckins, echoed by law enforcement, says to not confront someone who appears to be stealing merchandise and to stay cautious.
"We are encouraging consumers out there, when they're out shopping, if they see something that doesn't look right, something that is unscrupulous happening in a store, reach out to the store employees, make sure that they are aware of it, so they can contact the proper authorities to address that situation," Huckins said.
Retired Arizona DPS Capt. Stephen Enteman is a security specialist. He says retail theft suspects are becoming more aggressive.
"Retail organizations are trying to employ off-duty police. They obviously turn to the private security world, too. But there are still shortages when it comes to that. So, when you have this increased demand for services, you're also having a hard time meeting those services," Enteman said.
An incident on Monday in Philadelphia serves as a warning as police say a shoplifting suspect became violent with security.
"Officers arrive here, they locate two security guards who are suffering from stab wounds that occurred in the second part of this confrontation," police said.
One of those security guards was killed.
We could see 350 cases of organized retail theft submitted for the entire year of 2023, MCAO says.