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NEW YORK CITY (NewsNation Now) — Retailers are deciding that even when staff members see thefts happen, confrontations just aren’t worth the risk.

New York resident Diane Crafford witnessed a theft at a Manhattan drug store where the thief was, “throwing everything into his backpack, going from shelf to shelf.”

She said an employee told customers, “We have been informed that we are not allowed to stop them.”

Suspects apprehended after committing smash-and-grab thefts on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile last year were still wearing the stolen clothes, with price tags attached, according to police.

Smaller retailers say they’re getting hit by so many thefts they need to keep more items under lock-and-key. They’re also telling staff to just let the thefts happen as customers watch.

Experts predict this could lead to big retail losses, raising costs which will be passed along to consumers.

“It’s a bad thing for the industry, but it’s also understandable,” said Jeff Zisner, CEO of Aegis Security and Investigation.

The thefts add up to billions in losses every year. The National Retail Federation reports so-called retail “shrink” totaled $61.7 billion in 2019, up from $50.6 billion the year before. This is in large part because of increases in shoplifting and organized retail crime.

Loss prevention experts predict desperation, largely the result of the pandemic, will bring another double-digit increase in 2020.

In San Francisco, out of control retail theft was cited by Walgreens as a major factor in the decision to close 17 stores in the last five years.

Zinser recalled one specific incident: “I remember standing in one of those Walgreens stores, watching just a customer walk in, pick up several things off the shelf and start to walk toward the door. And I told the guy, ‘that’s theft- you need to ring up with the cashier,’ he looked at me and said, ‘so?’ and walks out.”