Just as New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton has led a collaborative effort to drive down crime to record low levels, he encouraged attendees to work together to help offset identity fraud, credit-card skimming and other crimes affecting the fashion and retail sector.
This story first appeared in the October 29, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Grand larceny, perhaps retailers’ and fashion companies’ greatest concern, accounts for 41 percent of all crime in the city, he said. Rival gangs that used to fight more over drugs are now clashing over credit-card and identity thefts, as well as ATM skimming. That is a $30 billion problem in the U.S., according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bratton said. In his second run as the city’s police commissioner, Bratton is the only individual to have held that post in New York and Los Angeles.
“In the 40-some odd years I’ve been associated with policing, beginning back in 1970 as an officer walking the beat for the Boston police department, I’ve gone through a series of revolutions and part of the overall evolution in my profession,” he said. “In some respects, we go down parallel tracks because the more secure we can make the communities that we serve, the more business we can generate for your world.”
Bratton cited how in 1994, the NYPD embraced the concept of CompStat and led the way in the nation with the return to the goal of policing, which is preventing the crime and not measuring success “just by our response to it.” Post 9/11, the city’s police force was moved into the information and technology age, “an era that continues to define us as it does your business, all the changes in terms of how people shop online and the changes in how they charge the items they buy from you. With policing, we’re also going into technology in a very big way.”
To that end, Bratton noted how just last week, he unveiled a $150 million initiative that will equip every NYPD officer with a smartphone with apps that will enable them to access practically all of the information the department possesses to help them do their jobs better. The NYPD also has tablets in every one of its cars and GPS locating devices in all of its 10,000 vehicles. “Trying to predict where the next crime is going to occur is very much like you’re trying to predict where the next buying trend is going to happen in America or internationally. So predictive policing, as far-fetched as it might seem, is in fact the reality where we now have the algorithms available to us and the vast amount of information that we can now analyze instantly. We, like you, will be able to predict where a pattern or trend might be evolving based on two or three incidents rather than waiting until there are 20 or 30,” Bratton said.
Before highlighting the downturn in the city’s crime over the last 20 years, Bratton told the crowd, “I encourage you to enjoy the city. It is truly now one of the safest large cities in the world, certainly in this country. And that is something that it was not in 1990. At that time, it could have easily been described without fear or contradiction as one of the most dangerous in the world.”
To illustrate the decline in New York City crime, Bratton said one day last week a record six million people rode the city’s subway system and there were only six subway crimes that day. While the number of murders in New York City tallied 2,245 in 1990, that figure fell to 335 last year and is expected to be even lower this year, he said. Homicides will be at a record-low number this year and robberies dropped 10 percent to another all-time low.
One of the main problems remains grand larceny. Compounding the problem is that many thieves are buying merchandise for resale, a phenomenon driven by visitors from Albania and other Eastern Bloc countries where authorities are unwilling to do anything, according to Bratton. Requiring PIN numbers and chip devices on credit cards helps, as well as security-camera monitoring in stores. In May, the NYPD launched a grand larceny division with 250 detectives to try to get a better handle on determining patterns of identity theft. And in April, with the support of 10 nationwide retailers and 18 law-enforcement agencies, the NYPD set up the New York Organized Retail Crime Association. Bratton highlighted how theft leads to higher retail prices for consumers, lost sales tax revenues, less money for police, education and other civic essentials, and greater health and safety risks.
“What good is it to you in your world to create all these clothes and designs if you can’t make a profit?” he asked.
An example was given of how organized gangs steal a consumer’s credit-card data by transferring it onto the magnetic strip of another card — be it a fake credit card, a loyalty card or even a hotel room key. A video was shown of a woman in an unidentified store buying a stack of iPads and other products — and paying for them with 12 credit cards. The person whose identity was stolen was hit by more than $3,000 of purchases he did not make. The woman in the video was accompanied by a group of accomplices, who then would do the same thing with other fake credit cards.
Bratton called on retailers to be more vigilant in these types of situations, scoffing at how the clerk ignored the fact that the woman was paying with 12 cards.
While New York remains a top target for terrorists, Bratton said the NYPD, FBI and international agencies are continually working together to take the offensive. “No city is better prepared than New York City to deal with the emerging issues that are so much on the front pages of the papers — ISIS and everything that is going on in Syria, and certainly the expansion and concern since the events of 9/11. My predecessor, Ray Kelly, spent the large part of his 12 years in office building what is inarguably the best system in the world, paralleled only maybe by what the Metropolitan Police in London have,” he said.
Acknowledging the reality of such ongoing issues as the threat of ISIS and Al-Qaeda, Bratton said the head of Scotland Yard will be in New York next week for a series of meetings with him and others “so that we can effectively sit down and share ideas” regarding emerging trends as a result of ISIS and Al-Qaeda.
“As recently as last week we had an example of the new emerging trends — inspiration through social media that ISIS in particular, much more than Al-Qaeda was ever able to do, has found a way to use something you’re familiar with — marketing techniques over social media to influence, encourage and to buy in. You encourage people to buy into your products — they’re attempting to encourage people to buy into their message of hate and attack. And they’re getting increasingly successful so we’re getting very concerned about those individuals. We saw it in Canada on the attack on its parliament and we saw it as recently as last week in this city when four young officers posing for a photograph for the public [were faced] with an individual that came charging at them with an ax. Looking at his social media over the previous weeks [leading up to the attack] he was increasingly spending all of his time on those sites,” Bratton said. “So what we are doing is not only affirming our traditional methods — our camera systems, our license plate scanners, our social media analysis and examination, but we are also expanding our capabilities of putting more people into that assignment with uniformed officers for more visible patrol, as well as our collaborative efforts with our colleagues in the FBI and international intelligence units to discuss these and other front-page issues to ensure public safety.”