Drugstore Shoplifting Soars on Upper East Side

Lack of security guards, weak jail policy contribute to problem, precinct commander says. Duane Reade tops the list.

Sep 16 2019 | 02:37 PM

Regular readers of the Crime Watch column in the Straus News papers know how frequently shoplifting incidents occur in Manhattan drugstores, especially Duane Reade.

Now, police at the 19th Precinct on the Upper East Side have released new statistics indicating that the drug store shoplifting problem is only getting worse, despite the fact that arrests for the crimes are also up 40 percent this year.

In a statement, Commanding Officer Kathleen Walsh said petit larcenies in the 19th precinct so far in 2019 were up 29 percent from this time last year. “Thefts from chain drugstores such as Duane Reade, CVS and Rite Aid make up 42 percent of these larcenies,” Walsh said. “In particular, thefts from Duane Reades account for 78 percent of the thefts from drugstores.”

According to Walsh, as of September 1, the 19th precinct, which runs from Fifth Avenue to the East River and from 59th Street to 96th Street, had 1,591 total petit larcenies, of which 676 occurred in drugstores. For the same period, there were 32 grand larcenies -- thefts exceeding a value of $1,000 – at drugstores in the 19th, up from 21 the previous year. That’s a 52 percent jump, Walsh pointed out, and most of them (81 percent) happened at Duane Reade/Walgreen locations.

Contributing Factors

Walsh acknowledged that the number of Duane Reade thefts is due partly to the chain’s massive presence in the area: there are 23 Duane Reade/Walgreen locations in the 19th Precinct, compared to 9 CVS locations and 2 Rite Aids.

Still, in her statement Walsh cited additional reasons why the Duane Reade stores seem particularly vulnerable to shoplifters. “Lack of security guards. Most locations do not have security working, or if they do, it’s only for certain hours. The layouts of these stores also do not aid in crime prevention, with rows of high shelves and isolated sections of the store that are not visible from cashier stations. What’s more, some locations have multiple entrances that are also not visible to cashier stations.”

Recidivists Walk Free

Repeat offenders are also a problem for this category of crime, Walsh said. “The criminal justice system is flawed. We have repeat offenders who are arrested over and over again. No bail is set; they are released the very same day and are back out stealing again.”

In fact, Walsh said that recidivists typically don’t see the inside of a jail until after 50 arrests. “Our repeat offenders have been arrested 25 to 30 times in the 19th Precinct alone before they get a sentence, and even then it’s usually no more than 10-15 days.”

Duane Reade and the other drugstore chains do have security cameras in place, along with anti-theft tags on many products. But many thefts also go unnoticed and unreported until a store checks its inventory, delaying police response by two or three days.

The items most stolen include detergent, shampoo, makeup, cosmetics, deodorants, fragrances, beer and energy drinks. Thieves often re-sell these items to bodegas in other neighborhoods.

At press time, the Duane Reade corporate media office had not responded to email requests for comment.