Tired of being a victim
In this part one of our series on the skyrocketing problem of shoplifting in southeast New Mexico, Hobbs business owners say shoplifters are becoming more aggressive and leaving them with big losses
GABRIELLE ARSIAGA NEWS-SUN
According to the FBI, each year around 27 million people are involved in shoplifting incidents in the United States.
Of those 27 million, about 1,579 people reported being a victim of property crime in Hobbs in 2018, according to the latest available statistics from the FBI.
Property crime, or more specifically, shoplifting, is particularly harmful to small businesses, causing losses of thousands of dollars in inventory each year.
To compensate for those losses, small businesses often may raise prices cover and must spend additional money to increase security measures to prevent further shoplifting from happening, business owners say.
Businesses in Lea County who said they are tired of being victims of shoplifting, are calling on the District Attorney to help them take a stand against thieves.
One of those local business owners calling on the DA and police to step up is Joe Imbriale.
Imbriale owns Rig Outfitters and Homestore, and Scrub Outfitters, in Hobbs, and has been a victim of increased shoplifting for the last several months.
Because of his frustration with the legal system, Imbriale is urging other small business owners to take a stand against shoplifters. He is encouraging small business owners to make it known the business community will no longer tolerate any form of thievery.
“I’ve got a list of small businesses that support me. They’re having the same problem I am,” Imbriale told the News-Sun. “The DA isn’t doing a damn thing. The cop’s hands are tied because of the laws. They’ve (the DA) dropped every single case that I’ve had. I’ve lost about 20 grand and not one case has been brought to court.”
So, Imbriale is allowing his employees who have a concealed carry license to carry their weapons while at work to combat the continued theft, threats and outright assault at his businesses.
“I’m actually scared for business owners right now because (criminals) are becoming more aggressive,” Imbriale said. “They’ll steal from right in front of you and run right out the door. Somebody is going to end up getting hurt, or shot, and I hate to say that, but in my experience, it’s getting worse. In 40 years of my retail experience, I am actually scared for business owners right now because (criminals) are becoming more aggressive. I gotta protect my business.”
But, while he is allowing employees legally allowed to carry a firearm to have that weapon on their person while at work, that doesn’t mean he is advocating for those employees to use the weapon — except where they are legally able to.
“I’m not instructing my employees to shoot anybody who steals from my store. If their lives are in danger, yes. I did this to scare the thieves and give them second thoughts about stealing from my business. More than likely my associates are not going to pull the gun unless their lives are in danger because under the law they are not allowed to pull their guns. I am putting the message out there that I am tired of this and I am protecting my business. Hopefully, they think before they come in here and steal from me.”
Tired of being a victim
OTHER BUSINESS owners said they are tired of the criminal element in Lea County as well and want the issues to be known and fixed.
“In our shop, we’re pretty much a full embroidery shop,” Karla Humphrey, owner of Busy Bees Embroidery, in Hobbs, said. “We haven’t felt much in the way of theft, but having said that, I do know there are other businesses who are. We moved into this mall, (Broadmoor Shopping Center) because we felt safe here, there’s a security guard here and it’s safe.”
But Humphrey said the uptick in crime around her has shaken that feeling of safety.
“Quite frankly, with all of the theft that has been taking place, we don’t feel safe. My mother comes to sew with us sometimes and I found myself, for the first time ever, picking up a pair of scissors to protect her with, if I had to. I have never done that before. I have never been afraid,” she said. “I have been all over this city and have never been afraid until now. I’ve never felt like I’ve needed any kind of weapon to protect myself.”
Humphrey also blames lax laws and the almost immediate release of criminals when they are caught, for thieves emboldened attitudes.
“Basically it’s a catch and release kind of law and a catch and release kind of attitude where the police know the people who are committing the theft ,and when the police do come around, (the criminals) are back out on the street,” she said. “The guy who was arrested in Joe’s shop, the police called him by name because he has been picked up so many times.
“At what point in time, do we say enough is enough? I understand the police department is short-staffed and can only work within the laws that we have in our state. But our legislators need to do something.”
DeeAnn Kimbro, Country Store Quilt Shop and Downtown Market owner in Lovington, said Lovington is a different story than Hobbs when it comes to shoplifting.
“Joe and them have a lot bigger problem than we do over here,” Kimbro said. “I’m in Lovington and we have a couple of guys who are kind of like what Joe’s got — repeat offenders — who are in my stores all of the time. We’ve just made it to where they can’t come in. The police here (in Lovington), if we have someone who looks out of control, we call and they come to pick them up or run them off.
“THE POLICE RESPOND in enough time that they can handle the problem before it gets out of hand. We’ve never had to prosecute anybody and we’ve never had the issues Joe has had. Joe has a horrendous problem with getting people prosecuted and getting the police to follow through.”
Kimbro, Imbriale and a few others met with District Attorney Dianna Luce to discuss the issue. As a result, Kimbro doesn’t think all of the blame lies with the DA.
“From what Joe said, the police are blaming her, and she is blaming them,” Kimbro told the News-Sun. “She brought her records with her, and only one of his cases that (Imbriale has) taken to the police have ever made it to her office. They took that guy to court and he was held incompetent for trial.
“That didn’t have anything to do with her. She told us, ‘If the case never makes it to my office, there’s nothing I can do about it.’”
And, Kimbro said she knows Luce is not lenient with criminals based on Luce’s time as a magistrate judge.
“I’ve had to deal with Dianna when she was a magistrate judge here, and she was hard on criminals. She made them accountable for stuff,” said Kimbro. “I really can’t see her saying, ‘Oh, I’m not going to do that.’ That’s not the way I knew her as a judge. If they (police cases) don’t make it to her office, I don’t know how she can be held accountable.”
Kimbro said she has spoken with Lea County Sheriff Corey Helton, and he told her it is at the police’s discretion as to whether somebody is prosecuted or not.
“If a lady has lost her job and she has three kids to feed and the police officer catches her stealing bread and milk, he has the discretion to take her to jail or let her go,” Kimbro said Helton told her as an example.
“In those cases, what Joe is talking about, that’s not right. They should be prosecuted,” she said.
Shoplifting Epidemic? continues with part two of our series tomorrow where we focus on what law enforcement is doing, or not doing, to combat the issue.
Gabrielle Arsiaga may be reached at email@example.com.
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