Local Shoplifting and the Pandemic-Driven Economic Crisis

CHATTANOOGA (WDEF) – “A lot of times, they’re stealing food simply to feed themselves, to feed their kids,” says Hamilton County Public Defender Boyd Patterson. A Publix in Chattanooga tells News 12 a man stole three steaks from their store Thursday. With a pandemic-driven recession and a supply chain crisis, food prices are sky-rocketing.

“I’m not surprised that people who have been affected economically by the pandemic are having to find other means to feed themselves. It’s not uncommon,” Patterson says. Publix tells News 12 Chattanooga Police identified the suspect but an arrest has not been made.

Publix says they can’t speculate why the man was stealing food but oftentimes, they say food theft is done in exchange for drugs or to return the items for cash.

“I couldn’t tell you the last time that I was involved in a case where they needed it for food. It’s usually because they’re an addict and they’re selling it,” says Haskel Bledsoe, Vice President of Special Projects at Food City. There’s no debate that grocery store shoplifters are often at rock bottom.

While these stores equip themselves with state of the art security equipment, a city like Chattanooga with a record breaking homeless population will experience shoplifting for many reasons. And all those reasons are taken into account by the courts.

“It’s one of the things that factors into any sentencing decision,” Patterson says. “It’s not what happened but why did it happen and then why it happened is often times the most important thing because it determines whether someone gets a break or gets social services to learn how to feed themselves and their kids. Or they go to the workhouse.”

Food City officials said they have a zero tolerance policy with shoplifters and will prosecute every one they catch.

Categories: Chattanooga, Crime, Featured, Hamilton County, Local News