KCPAO Highlights Enhanced Action, Coordination on Retail Crime

On November 30, the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office testified before the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee on recent efforts related to retail crime. Deputy Prosecuting Attorney and Retail Crimes Prosecutor, Nicole Lawson, shared with the committee how greater emphasis and coordination on retail crimes led to triple the number of retail crimes filed in 2022 compared to 2021.

While the KCPAO has always prosecuted retail crimes as part of its general felony prosecution practice, in June of 2021, a specific Deputy Prosecuting Attorney (DPA) was dedicated to working full time on these cases. In 2022, the KCPAO filed 157 felony retail crime cases compared to 52 in 2021. These cases often involve multiple codefendants and/or multiple incidents per defendant.

Below is a transcript of Lawson’s testimony:

“Good afternoon.

My name is Nicole Lawson, and I am a Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office (KCPAO). Since March of 2022, I have served as the Retail Crimes Prosecutor within in the Economic Crimes Unit. My position is dedicated full time to the prosecution of retail crimes.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to speak to the committee today. Retail crimes is a topic that the KCPAO takes very seriously, and I urge the committee to do the same.

My office has always prosecuted retail crimes as a part of our work prosecuting all types of crimes in King County. But King County saw an increase of retail crime incidents during the pandemic.

In response, in mid-2021 the KCPAO designed a full-time prosecutor dedicated to working solely on retail crimes cases. To be clear­­ — there are more retail crimes cases than any one person can handle, so the actual prosecution of these cases is done by both me and a number of different prosecutors depending on the circumstances. However, KCPAO’s analysis was that we needed a designated person to serve as a subject matter expert and KCPAO’s point of contact for retailers and law enforcement.

As a result, KCPAO was able to file triple the number of retail crimes cases in 2022 compared to 2021.

In 2023, we are projecting that we will not file as many cases as we did in 2022, but still significantly higher than 2021 levels.

Each case represents one or more instance of retail crime. I use the term “retail crimes” because retail-based offenses can be charged under a number of different statutes including Organized Retail Theft, Burglary, Trafficking in Stolen Property, Robbery and more.

Retail crime affects both large corporate retailers and Mom & Pop stores and has serious impacts on our community and the residents of Washington.

When stores are forced to close due to the rising costs associated with retail crimes, it can severely limit a community’s access to basis necessities, like grocery stores and drug stores.

There is a real human impact to these offenses. I consistently hear from retailers how much of a toll retail crime takes on their staff who express how demoralizing it is to be unable to stop these offenders. Anecdotally, we are hearing from retailers that they are seeing an increase in violence during retail crimes. This puts both store employees and customers at risk.

KCPAO remains committed to addressing the issue of retail crime. To that end, we recently established a new Economic Crimes & Wage Theft Division with the goal to deliver a more unified focus and approach to economic crimes and to bring greater accountability to defendants who commit retail crimes.

We are fortunate enough to have fantastic partners in our fight against retail crime. KCPAO is extremely grateful to all our partners, which includes all the organizations you’ve heard from today, and also our law enforcement partners, the Seattle City Attorney’s Office, the National District Attorney’s Association (NDAA), and the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) for their continued support and collaboration.

The KCPAO looks forward to continuing to partner with retailers and law enforcement agencies to tackle this important issue.”

The full-time Retail Crimes DPA position was initially housed in the Economic Crimes Unit within the Criminal Division. However, in early 2023, King County Prosecuting Attorney Leesa Manion created a new Economic Crimes and Wage Theft Division to provide a unified focus and approach to economic crimes cases — including retail crimes — and to bring greater accountability to those who commit them. KCPAO’s Economic Crimes Unit is now housed within that new division. Our Retail Crimes DPA is working in close partnership with the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), and local law enforcement to strengthen our collective response to retail crime.

Additionally, the KCPAO is in constant communication with the Seattle City Attorney’s Office, including weekly calls about the most prolific behavior referred to our two offices. There have been multiple examples where we have combined what would be individual misdemeanor cases into felony cases; we will continue to work together to tackle organized crime and retail theft.