The City of Issaquah has had enough of an “unacceptable level” of shoplifting at one the largest local retailers. The City alleges Target is creating a public nuisance that it must address immediately or face potentially significant consequences.
The City’s recent actions were prompted by weeks of inaction by Target after several inquiries by City officials and reports from residents and on social media, according to City Administrator Wally Bobkiewicz.
“We all live here,” Bobkiewicz said. “We could see the carts. It’s pretty apparent what is going on.” He said it was clear there was an unacceptable level of shoplifting—with shopping carts full of televisions working their way down Newport Way, reports of people attempting to sell goods at the Issaquah Transit Center, reports of people on buses riding back to Seattle with large amount of goods, and one resident reporting that people were boasting on public transit about how easy it was to shoplift in Issaquah.
On December 17, 2021, Deputy City Attorney Ann Marie J. Soto told Target in a letter that its Issaquah store has become the source for “various, and frequent, criminal activity” including shoplifting, shopping cart theft and abandonment, sale of stolen merchandise at the Issaquah transit center and surrounding areas, in-store thefts of customers’ personal belongings and more. The letter put Target on notice that if immediate action is not taken to curb the criminal activity at its Issaquah location, the City will “pursue all legal remedies available to abate this public nuisance.”
At a subsequent meeting with Target, City officials were left unsatisfied by Target’s plan. Target’s efforts did not go far enough, Turpin wrote in a letter dated January 4.
Unless Target immediately abates the “public nuisance it has created at the Issaquah store,” the City will issue monetary fines, revoke Target’s business license, and seek to enjoin Target from allowing further criminal activity, Turpin warned.
Target responded on January 6 with a list of immediate actions it was taking including hiring off-duty police officers for a uniformed presence, checking receipts at the front door, utilizing a full asset-protection team seven days a week, installing a cart security gatekeeper system, coordinating a “blitz” with police for identifying, apprehending, and prosecuting shoplifters, locking up alcohol, and more.
“I am confident that these actions will provide a strong impression of control that will deter criminal activity at our [Issaquah] store,” wrote Kent Wilson, Director of State and Local Government Affairs for Target.
The City Council on November 15 heard from Issaquah resident Nicole Miller, who recounted her experience at Target on October 28 when she witnessed four men publicly and separately steal hundreds if not thousands of dollars worth of electronics and liquor from the store. Miller notified the manager while the thefts were happening at Target and also called 911, but the manager took no action and the 911 operator would not send police, Miller told the Council.
“All I could think of is how could this be happening?” Miller told the Council. Having moved 18 times growing up, she has lived in Issaquah Highlands for three years.
“Never in all the places I lived have I witnessed the amount of preventable crime that I have seen here in Issaquah,” Miller told the Council.
Bobkiewicz told the Council that the issue for the stores, as he understands it, is about safety and liability. “Many of the national chains have told stories of when employees have confronted potential shoplifters, and those employees then being threatened verbally and with weapons in the store.”
He further told the Council that he thinks the stores have just decided that the costs associated with the safety of their employees and customers versus the cost of the items being taken doesn’t match. “The amount of theft is certainly beyond that general criteria, so that’s what’s we have tried to point out to these businesses,” Bobkiewicz said.
Mayor Mary Lou Pauly told the Council it was an emerging issue and that regional retailers are adjusting to what they consider very difficult times. “But the impact on the community and the number of calls we receive about shoplifting and carts being left at the Transit Center is significantly on the rise,” she added. “It’s not ok here,” she told the Council. Her approach is to work together with the retailers.
Bobkiewicz said the City would take the same approach with other businesses it has taken with Target if necessary, but so far it hasn’t had to.
Abandoned shopping carts also have been an attractive nuisance, as they are left in rights of way, and the Transit Center has been the recipient of hundreds and hundreds over the last three months, Bobkiewicz said. “Sound Transit doesn’t want them their either,” he said, adding that Target’s carts “by far and away” comprise the majority of the abandoned carts. Sound Transit and the City are working together to address related problems at the Transit Center.
The City also is working local businesses to let them know that Issaquah police will respond when called, find out what business’s needs are, and generally let people know that the City and its police department want to be helpful, Bobkiewicz said.
In related action, the City Council at its January 18 meeting will consider legislation requiring businesses to keep better track of their shopping carts. Bobkiewicz said the bill is still being finalized as the City works with local businesses on the proposal new obligations.