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The New York Times has a story about how, more fearful than ever about safety in their workplaces, retail employees want to take a more aggressive approach to their defense.

"During the early months of the pandemic," the Times writes, "stores became tinderboxes for a society frazzled by lockdowns, protests and mask mandates. Many workers say that tension persists, even as pandemic tensions recede, and that they need more protections … According to a New York Times analysis of F.B.I. assault data, the number of assaults in many retail establishments has been increasing at a faster pace than the national average.

"From 2018 to 2020, assaults overall rose 42 percent; they increased 63 percent in grocery stores and 75 percent in convenience stores. Of the more than two million assaults reported to the F.B.I. by law enforcement agencies across the country in 2020, more than 82,000 — about 4 percent — were at shopping malls, convenience stores and other similar locations."

An example of a response:

"In her 37 years in the grocery industry, said Kim Cordova, a union president in Colorado, she had never experienced the level of violence that her members face today.

"So when she was negotiating contracts for 21,000 grocery workers in Colorado this past winter, the usual issues of wages and scheduling were certainly on the table. But just as critical, if not more so, was safety … The union negotiated a contract that ensures workers have the right to defend themselves if a customer attacks them. It is a grim acknowledgment of not only the violence plaguing many facets of American society but the increasing unwillingness of retail employees to keep turning the other cheek to crime in their stores."

The Times goes on:

"While the political debate swirls about the extent of the crime and its causes, many of the people staffing the stores say retailers have been too permissive of crime, particularly theft. Some employees want more armed security guards who can take an active role in stopping theft, and they want more stores to permanently bar rowdy or violent customers, just as airlines have been taking a hard line with unruly passengers … Stores, by their very design, can be a catch basin for society’s gravest challenges, such as homelessness and gun violence. And until those issues are solved more broadly, it is difficult to fortify spaces where the public is encouraged to roam freely and shop."

KC's View:

I'm a big believer in "broken windows" theory of law enforcement, as popularized by William Bratton, the former police commissioner in Boston and New York City, as well as former chief of police in Los Angeles - if you enforce the laws the apply to small crime, you are better able to prevent big crime.

That applies to retail crime, as well - if you let people steal small stuff with impunity, they're more likely to steal big stuff.  Or worse.

It is true that police departments are stressed in terms of personnel, and the criminal justice system doesn't have the resources it needs.  And it is true that many retailers are spending a lot more money on security than they are used to.

I don't think we should be arming retail employees, but I do think they have to be empowered to react … up to a point.  One thing that needs to change right away - the Times story notes that "employees typically lose their jobs if they physically try to stop or confront a shoplifter, a policy meant to protect them from harm."  But at the very least, retailers have to take a more nuanced approach to such rules.  And maybe they need to have therapists on call who can tend to the emotional stress being felt by so many employees.