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Deadly Shoplifting Incident in Philly Highlights National Retail Crime Surge

The stabbing death of Center City Macy’s security guard Eric Harrison at the hands of an alleged shoplifter has highlighted Philadelphia’s’ retail crime surge. It also called attention to progressive District Attorney Larry Krasner’s’ policy of treating shoplifting up to $500 as a summary offense handled by a police officer writing a ticket.

Now, the question is whether this high-profile crime and the proliferation of shoplifting in Philadelphia will keep suburban shoppers away from the city during the Christmas shopping season. Or will they go online where, according to law enforcement sources, there has been a surge in the sale of stolen, counterfeit, and other illicit products?

On Dec. 4, 30-year-old Tyrone Tunnell was confronted by two security guards at Macy’s while allegedly attempting to steal hats. Tunnell left the store, only to return and allegedly stab them both with a pocket knife. Harrison died from his wounds. The other guard was slashed in the face and arms.

The next day, Krasner and other city leaders held a press conference insisting retail crime was under control. “We have requested the city council to provide additional funding for a task force,” Krasner said. “Most of what that task force would be doing would focus on prolific retail thieves and the fences —  those who deal in stolen goods.”

And city councilor Michael Driscoll told reporters the crime issue won’t’ keep him and his family away.

“I still intend to bring my five children, my wife, and my neighbors here in the next two weeks to shop and to make sure that they know that I believe that this city is still safe,” Driscoll said.

Do suburban shoppers believe him?

“I simply will not go to the city of Philadelphia under any circumstances any longer,” Doylestown resident Ted Taylor told DVJournal via Facebook.

“We should all be concerned about crime,” said Samantha Brooks of Elkins Park.

Retail theft has burgeoned in Philadelphia this year, with 16,891 cases so far, according to the police department. There were 14,240 cases in 2022, 9,362 cases in 2021, and 7,826 cases in 2020.

Some blame Krasner’s’ lax punishment for shoplifting. Rep. Craig Williams (R-Chadds Ford), who is running for attorney general, said he believes vigorous prosecution is the key to cutting down on crime.

Williams posted on X: “Larry Krasner refuses to prosecute retail theft, which has created a city being looted to the ground. And now a security guard is dead as a direct result. We don’t need a ‘task force’ to discover the solution. The answer is clear – PROSECUTE.”

The retail crime problem in Philadelphia is part of a national surge in what law enforcement calls organized retail crime (ORC), And it is costing retailers $100 billion in losses nationwide.

Shoplifting isn’t teenagers sticking a few beers in their jackets or stealing party supplies at Walmart. Instead, many robberies are executed by some of the most dangerous criminal cartels in the world. The profits from retail theft in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Los Angeles help fund drugs, prostitution, and human trafficking in Mexico and Central America, officials said.

“These folks that are going from store to store and state to state with lists and compiling all the merchandise and warehouses cleaning it and selling it on online marketplaces,” said Alysa Erichs with United to Safeguard America from Illegal Trade (USA-IT), a public-private partnership fighting the sale of counterfeit, illicit and stolen goods.

“Like, it’s legitimate street gangs,” added Erichs, a former executive associate director at Homeland Security Investigations. “Depending on where you are, there are different gang names for different areas and regions. … We’re seeing that gangs are recruiting juveniles because it’s basically a revolving door when they get caught because they’re below adult age. If they get caught, they have more sources that are out there.”

The National Retail Federation agreed. Its 2021 National Retail Security Survey reported retailers experienced a 26.5 percent increase in ORC from 2020 to 2021 — including ORC-related violence and aggression.

Michael Ball of Homeland Security Investigations said groups meet on social meeting sites and go into stores to steal. Very few of the products are for their own use. Instead, cartels sell the stolen items online.

“It’s being resold to criminal organizations to fund organized crime,” he said. “That’s what’s happening.”

“People are being duped to be part of organized crime,” he said. “You’re giving hundreds and thousands of dollars to people who are flooding guns and drugs onto your streets. It’s one of the most foolish things you can possibly think of.”

Some retailers don’t interfere with the thefts, fearing violence.

Lower Merion Police Sgt. Mark Keenan told DVJournal the Lululemon in Suburban Square has been repeatedly hit by shoplifters recently. Still, its employees were ordered “not to engage” with the thieves.

With the holiday shopping season underway, police have stepped up patrols of the shopping center, he said. Keenan has also undertaken other measures that he preferred not to share with the public.

But if someone sees shoplifting, he asks that they “please report it to the police.”

“Employees will be safer, and customers will be safer,” Keenan said, noting theft is prosecuted in Lower Merion.

A spokesperson for Lululemon did not respond to requests for comment.

Tunnell, of Philadelphia, was charged with murder, attempted murder, aggravated assault, simple assault, recklessly endangering another person, possession of an instrument of crime, tampering with evidence, and retail theft in the Macy’s stabbing, according to the DA’s Office. He was arrested by SEPTA police shortly after the crime.

Tunnell has a history of primarily retail theft and drug-related cases in Philadelphia, Bucks, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties. Before last Monday’s incident, officials said there was an active warrant for his arrest in Delaware County.


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FLOWERS: Christmas Light Show Brings Childhood Memories Alive

One of my earliest memories of Christmas is boarding the Market Frankford El at 52nd Street to go to Wanamaker’s.  I was either 4 or 5, bundled up in a coat with a tiny brown muff and a fluffy fur hat as my elegant accessories. I remember thinking that this was an adventure, a train that soared above the streets and took me to a magical place where the store windows beckoned with toys and treats.

I’m sure we eventually stopped at Lits Brothers and Strawbridge’s, but we were a Wanamaker’s family so my most vivid recollections revolve around that majestic castle of wonder on 13th Street, the solemn Eagle made of gold (convince me it’s not) and the organ, suspended like a benevolent king over his retail kingdom.

Macy’s Christmas Light Show

And standing out amid the mists of memory, shimmering with twinkles and music and fountains of rainbow-tinted water was the Light Show.  If you say “Light Show” to a child of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, they will not think of the Comcast Center and its glitzy panorama of technological triumph.  They will not think of the Christmas Village at Dilworth Plaza, lovely and proletarian and marginally reminiscent of a European marketplace (an idea that evaporates completely at the sounds of Philadelphia, harsh and guttural and punctuated with expletives).

They will not think of exquisite Longwood Gardens with the canopy of crystal and the trees that imitate jewels, and they will not think of the tiny suburban towns that line their lampposts with ropes of white lights (never colored, always white) to achieve some fashionable ambiance.  They won’t even think of the Miracle on 13th Street, South Philly’s gift to the unsuspecting and the weary.

They-we-think of the wall at Wanamaker’s, which looks deceptively unexceptional during most of the year.  Sometimes, if you look up during the dog days of August when the sweat is dripping down your collar, you can just make out the phantom images in the wiring, barely visible against the dark background.  And yet you know it’s there, dozing gently through the summer and autumn months until, in December, the switch to our childhood is turned “ON” and the Light Show begins.

I was there last week, alone with hundreds of strangers but with my Mom Mom and Pop Pop at my shoulders, my mother and father by my side, and all the loved ones who have left me here to move ahead without them, hovering in the ether.  I was a child again, in my muff and fluffy hat, looking up in wonder as what they’ve called “The Largest Christmas Card in History” came to life.  Rudolph, Frosty, the Sugar Plumb Fairy, the Snowflakes, the trains and the clocks and the music came back in waves of blessing.  I was 4 again.  And although the voice that narrated the stories and the traditions wasn’t the deep rich bass of John Facenda, enveloping me in warmth and confidence that Santa was real, Julie Andrews did almost as good a job keeping the magic alive.

I looked around at the children, eyes turned up to the wall that seemed so much bigger when I was a child, and I hoped that they were suspended in the same mystical magical bubble that carried me along in 1965.  From their expressions, I am pretty certain that they were, as were their parents and their grandparents, who had abandoned the worries and cares of the 21st century and settled back-for a brief moment-into the glory of the recent past.

It’s called Macy’s now, and the dancing waters are gone, and the cheerful voices have changed, and I’m no longer a child waving goodbye to Frosty, as the images fade away.  I am much closer to the end of life than the beginning, and I no longer ride the El out of fear and sadness for what it’s become.  I no longer walk, fearless, down the streets of the city with my hand in the hand of my grandmother, certain that she will fight off the lions and dangers, and take me to Santa, and help make my wishes come true.

But I still stand, in awe, before that wall of light, and thank God that it still has the power to make me feel Christmas, in my bones and in my flawed Philly heart.

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