Punish the Victims

In Florida, where there seems to be a substantial problem with people stealing property in the form of shopping carts from local merchants, the government has a solution: Fine the victims.

In theory, stealing a shopping cart is punishable by up to 60 days in
jail and a $500 fine. But police rarely catch anyone in the act.

So local governments across the state are tackling the battle in
other ways, typically requiring stores to keep carts in the parking lot
or pay a fine.

Hallandale Beach recently updated its laws requiring stores to
create plans for keeping carts on their property. Stores bigger than
35,000 square feet, about the size of many grocery stores, can be
required to install theft-prevention devices....Installation costs $20,000 to $30,000, Miller said....

But retailers are fighting back. The way they see it, the rules are
blaming the victim -- punishing stores for other people's stealing.

Thanks to Bob Houk for the link. 


  1. TC:

    I suppose the demand for a totally generic carts will increase eh?

  2. KipEsquire:

    Why can't they just make unauthorized possession of a cart unlawful? See generally, "War on Drugs."

    Also, I'm pretty sure some states have a self-help replevin provision (i.e., the supermarket can seize any of its carts it finds without the need to first contact the police).

  3. eddie:

    In all fairness, the problem is not stores suffering from stolen property (which, if it was happening enough to have a significant effect on their profits would induce the stores to institute anti-theft measures on their own, law or no law) but rather stores allowing people to take their property and leave it lying around in public areas or on other peoples' property. In other words, local residents and businesses are tired of seeing shopping carts abandoned in odd places.

    Since the crime isn't stealing but rather littering, the new requirements aren't punishing the victims but rather punishing the enablers. It would still make more sense to punish the perpetrators. That isn't done, though, partly for public relations reasons ("Who wants to be the person arresting a 90-year-old grandmother pushing her groceries?") and partly because of the cost of enforcement.

    The measures in question are an attempt to put the burden of shopping cart litter on the owners of the shopping carts. I think there's a debatable but not completely unreasonable case to be made for doing so.

    Assuming the stores should bear that burden, the most efficient way to do so would be to charge the stores for the costs of enforcement, perhaps on a per-cart-retrieved basis; the stores would then be free to determine for themselves the most cost-effective way to prevent shopping cart litter (they might install anti-theft devices, or hire people to round them up, or offer a bounty for returned carts, or just keep paying the fines). The cities started with that, but the stores fought against it at the state level and won. So now the cities are forcing them to adopt specific measures since the state eliminated the market-oriented solution.

  4. markm:

    I wonder how many petty criminals these towns have doing makework "community service" jobs? Maybe they could be pushing the carts back to the stores instead.

  5. TC:

    "Since the crime isn't stealing but rather littering, the new requirements aren't punishing the victims but rather punishing the enablers."

    Does that mean we can go after fast food places, coke and pepsi and such when we find litter with their logo on it too?

    Gee I thought there were already anti littering laws?

    I must have been mistaken!

  6. Jody:

    It's really the same logic as is being used in the lawsuits against the gun manufacturers (Person X uses product Y in a way not intended by manufacturer A. Since A made Y, X's actions with Y are the fault of A).

    Equally flawed, but the same.

  7. dearieme:

    One local store has carts ("trolleys" in Britain)whose wheels lock if you push them past a Red Line.

  8. markm:

    Dearieme: There must be a electronic cable buried under that red line, at a cost of thousands, more likely tens of thousands, even in pounds. Unless the rate of theft becomes unreasonable, it's less costly to replace a few carts, probably even a few hundred carts.

    Also, it might not stop the thefts. While I haven't seen one of these carts, I suspect I could disable the brakes in a few seconds. I hope I am more knowledgeable and resourceful than the average homeless person, but once one of them figures it out, the others may learn from them.

  9. David:

    TC: The laws are ineffective because it is impractical to catch the person littering when all you have is an abandoned grocery cart. The city has a perfectly reasonable and legitimate interest in trying to find some way to prevent shopping carts from being abandoned (littered). Laws preventing littering help, but clearly aren't working, because shopping carts are still being stolen and left places.

    It makes sense to look for other ways of solving the problem.

    Unfortunately, I think this is a bit of an unfair burden to place on the stores. Since this is, in fact, a public policy issue, perhaps tax revenues could subsidize the anti-theft measures the stores ultimately decide to use?

  10. Don Keefhardt:

    When shopping carts are outlawed, only outlaws will have shopping carts.

  11. Walter E. Wallis:

    Arrest anyone off site with a shopping cart unless they have written permission. People can buy carts and wagons to take groceries home. Stores could have rental carts, or even runners to accompany carts home and return them for a price.

  12. wavemaker:

    Since it is obvious that the perpetrators of this plague are homeless people and drunk college students, we can solve this problem by licensing shopping carts and zoning college-friendly bars out of commercial districts.

  13. aj:

    I suspect what the politicians really want, is for supermarkets to volunteer to periodically send somebody around to pick up their carts from nearby apartment complexes. Since they won't volunteer until they are forced to...

  14. Poster:

    The real answer, of course, is not legal at all, but rather moral. If citizens were *sooo* concerned about seeing shopping carts in weird areas, why don't they return them to the grocery store, Wal-Mart or wherever? It takes a few minutes out of their lives. But they can't be bothered. Instead, it's the "let's pass more laws so other people can deal with it" non-solution.

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