HONOLULU(KHON2) — Businesses said shoplifting became an even bigger problem since the pandemic started.

Power tools, electronics, alcohol and even canned goods are just a few of the things thieves have their eye on.

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City Mill marketing manager Shannan Okinishi said the pandemic has only made things worse.

“There’s no doubt it’s gotten significantly worse since the pandemic started,” Okinishi said. “For sure every store at least once a week there’s an incident. In some stores it’s a daily incident.”

Retail Merchants of Hawaii president Tina Yamaki said there is a significant uptick in shoplifting at retail stores. ‘

“We’ve heard of people just stealing whole displays,” Yamaki explained. “People running out with tables or racks of goods and into a waiting car, and off they go.”

The Honolulu Police Department said the 2020 Annual report showed there were 2,100 shoplifting offenses in 2020 and 3,141 reports in 2019. They do not have any statistics for 2021 yet.

Yamaki and Okinishi said the mask mandate has emboldened criminals.

“People come in with baseball caps, dark glasses and the masks on and you know, it’s hard to identify a lot of them. And they think that, you know, it’s okay to just grab and go items,” Yamaki said.

Sgt. Chris Kim of Crimestoppers said masks have made it harder for authorities but they are still finding many of the culprits.

“We’ve had many success stories where we were able to identify suspects through other traits,” Kim explained. “Tattoos, scars, marks, height, weight, just the physical appearance — you know the mask usually just covers from the nose down. And a lot of times, what we’re seeing is that family members or friends are still able to identify people depicted in photos or videos, and with Crimestoppers, they’ll be able to report it to us anonymously.”

As crime evolves, so do the methods stores are using to prevent it and catch those who are responsible.

Okinishi said they have updated their security systems and security cameras, added alarms to high priced items, put serial numbers on merchandise to help identify them if thieves try to resell them. They have also implemented store bag policies.

Mom-and-pop shops like Friendly Store are also impacted. Store owner Kimi Yang said she had to make changes after thieves kept stealing 12-packs of beer.

“It happen 30 time — its enough. I put the lock,” Yang explained. “It cost me money to put the lock, but it’s the piece of mind. (The shoplifting) drive me crazy.”

Yang also moved some items behind the counter because she said, “That’s what they like steal.”

Kim said if someone is shoplifting, it is safer not to engage.

“Theives get desperate,” he explained. “And it’s not uncommon for them to use physical force to get away with those items,”

He said it is better to be a good witness.

The penalty for shoplifting ranges from a petty misdemeanor punishable for theft valued at under $250 to up to 30 days in jail or a $1,000 fine. Thefts between $250 and $750 are considered a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail or a $2,000 fine. Anything over $750 is considered a Class C felony punishable by up to five years in jail or a $10,000 fine.

Yamaki said there is frustration because thieves are often let off easy.

“A lot of times, judges feel that because it’s a non violent crime, they’re letting them go with a warning or with no consequences at all.”

Yamaki urges businesses and prosecutors to hold thieves responsible because the entire community pays the price when businesses are forced to charge more to recoup their losses.

The Department of the Prosecuting Attorney released this statement:
“The Department of the Prosecuting Attorney takes all property crime, including shoplifting, very seriously. Especially when professionals are involved, the losses to stores are substantial and will be passed on to the consumer. Hawaii law makes habitual property crime a Class C felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison. We work closely with HPD to identify habitual offenders so we can prosecuted them and get them off the streets.”