After a steep rise in retail and pharmacy robberies, CVS and other retailers are taking steps to stop shoplifters, looters and thieves who authorities say often act on behalf of “well-organized crime rings.”
On Tuesday, CVS announced new behind-the-counter safety measures in all of its 392 Illinois stores to prevent the theft of opioids and other controlled substances. The chain partnered with Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul.
“These are more often than not, not isolated incidents,” Raoul said. “[They] are part of an organized crime scheme that frequently can be connected to drug trades, human trafficking and other dangerous crimes.”
Raoul said his office’s newly formed Organized Retail Crime Task Force will also be instrumental in stamping out the spike in retail and pharmacy robberies. The task force combats organized retail crime by facilitating cooperation among retailers, online marketplaces, law enforcement agencies and local prosecutors.
Over the past two years, organized retail crime has markedly increased. Since the pandemic, CVS has seen an estimated 30% increase in thefts, and organized retail theft in the U.S. accounts for $45 billion in annual losses, Raoul’s office said.
Raoul, who on Tuesday touted CVS’s increased efforts to combat opioid theft, said the rise in retail and pharmacy robberies is likely due to organized crime groups seizing the “opportunity” that came with the summer protests of 2020.
“On the heels of the protests, we saw people take advantage of the looting,” Raoul said. “That was not organic, that was just not people who are upset about police, those were organized crime [groups].”
As of Tuesday, all 392 CVS locations in Illinois now feature time-delay safes in their pharmacies, which are intended to prevent narcotics theft.
The new safes will hold controlled substances and open at a random time each day. Pharmacy employees will be alerted once they’re unlocked so they can remove the amount of medication expected for the next day, said Tom Moriarty, CVS Health’s chief policy officer and general counsel.
Employees cannot open the safes on their own, allowing the bulk of medication, including opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone, to be locked away during most hours of the day.
The safes also feature emergency alarm systems and 24-hour surveillance. Moriarty said the safes have been installed in CVS locations across 20 states and contributed to a significant reduction in pharmacy robberies.
Instead of expanding penalties for theft, Raoul said prosecutors need to “charge more creatively” within the existing statutes to prevent future robberies.
“The best way to prevent further future action is to get to the people who are doing it. If they’re not apprehended, they will repeat,” he said. “There are some acts that cannot be responded to with a slap on the wrist. We’ve got to be tough about it.”