Americans speak out: Holiday smash-and-grabs fuel anxiety

(NewsNation Now) — High-profile smash-and-grab robberies have made Americans feel less safe this holiday season. But it’s unlikely to stop most people from going in-person to finish their Christmas shopping, according to a new poll commissioned by NewsNation.

The NewsNation research, conducted last week, made several things crystal clear:

  • Retail crimes are a major problem in the minds of Americans. More than 80 percent of the country thinks issues like porch piracy and in-store thefts are a problem for the nation, and half of those surveyed see it happening in their own communities.
  • Almost half of holiday shoppers (48 percent) who had heard of these crimes feel less safe going to stores as a result of the smash-and-grab robberies in the past few weeks.
  • Americans are looking for answers and worry their politicians don’t know how to solve the problem, either. Fewer than 40 percent of Americans approve with how politicians are handling this issue, but they themselves can’t agree on any one solution.

Here’s the one silver lining: These latest high-profile retail crimes won’t derail Christmas shopping plans. Most Americans have already shopped in-person and another 25 percent still plan to visit brick-and-mortar locations.

About one in five Americans won’t shop in person during the holidays. But the robberies barely register as a reason why. People stay away from stores because they prefer online shopping or fear COVID-19, according to the NewsNation survey. Fewer than 10 percent of non-store shoppers say retail crime is a factor.

These are just some of the findings in a survey of Americans done exclusively for NewsNation, as we try and get to the facts on how recent holiday crime is affecting our lives. The publishing of this original scientific research, done on behalf of NewsNation by Decision Desk HQ, is the start of a weeklong look at concerns about holiday crimes, the facts around them, and how to solve the problem.

Shocking footage of smash-and-grab crimes at high-end stores have put a renewed focus on retail crime and policies in dealing with people who commit them. Groups of people — often masked and dressed in black — smash windows and display cases, then snatch as many items as possible before running out to waiting vehicles.

The thefts come during a time when surveys and trade groups were predicting a record comeback for holiday shopping. Online shopping was expected to continue to grow. But there were mixed messages from consumers, too. The Survey of Consumer Sentiment from the University of Michigan was far below pre-COVID numbers and had dropped just below normal for the holiday shopping season.

It looks like the smash-and-grab robberies won’t push shoppers too far off course. NewsNation and Decision Desk HQ surveyed 1,166 registered voters. The survey has a margin of error of 2.9 percent. About three-quarters of those surveyed had heard of the recent smash-and-grab robberies. Of those, 48 percent said they felt felt less safe, 46 percent felt the same and another six percent felt more safe after seeing the news.

Overall, 54 percent of those surveyed have already shopped in person, 25 percent plan to shop in person and 21 percent don’t plan to shop in person.

Only 6.5 percent of those who said they wouldn’t shop in person cited the recent retail crimes.

“The general public should not allow this small group of individuals to dictate how they live their lives, how they shop,” said Broward County Florida Sheriff’s Sgt. Richard Rossman, who is also the vice president of the National Coalition of Law Enforcement and Retail and the president of the Florida Law Enforcement Property Recovery Unit.

But the public connects political decisions to some of these crimes. In California, for example, critics place blame on progressive policies such as Proposition 47, a ballot measure overwhelmingly approved by state voters in 2014 that reduced certain felony theft and drug possession offenses to misdemeanors.

NewsNation’s survey also found:

  • Forty-nine percent disapproved of the job their lawmakers were doing in addressing crime.
  • Sixty-three percent think laws around theft and sentencing guidelines are too soft
  • Seventy-nine percent think smash-and-grab suspects should not be released without bail while awaiting trial

The sentiment about bail touches on recent reforms in some counties to eliminate cash bail. Significant research shows that cash bail has hurt defendants who are poor, Black and Hispanic in particular. Many people who sit in jail for long periods of time when they are innocent. But the public is clearly uneasy with the results of policies that are trying to address this issue.

National retail groups last month estimated the annual losses to be in the tens of billions of dollars. Some states’ attorneys general are supporting a congressional bill that would require more prevention efforts by large online marketplaces, where experts say many of the stolen goods are fenced.

Rossman said stronger and more uniform oversight of businesses such as pawn shops and online marketplaces could help reduce retail crime long-term.

“If you shut down the demand for it and they don’t have a market to sell, it’ll assist everybody,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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