Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - Missoula County Attorney Matt Jennings shares the weekly crime report every Friday on Talk Back, and he recently emphasized the growing problem of petty theft and shoplifting plaguing Missoula businesses.

“Small-level property crimes have really skyrocketed in Missoula over the last few years,” began Jennings. “Even though in the county as a whole through the sheriff's department, crimes against property dropped 19 percent between 2022 and 2023; but in the city of Missoula crimes against property rose almost 6 percent.”

Shoplifting Crimes are on the Increase in Missoula

Jennings said new businesses in Missoula experience thefts from the moment they open.

“This really struck home when I went into a new business a few days ago and speaking with the owner, he said they started having people come in and immediately shoplifting,” he said. “One of the first things he noticed in opening a business is how hard that can be to have the monetary loss, makes the employees feel unsafe, and really not know what to do about it.”

Only a Small Number of People are Responsible for Most of the Petty Crimes

Jennings said reports indicate that a very small portion of the population is committing the majority of the crimes.

He said employees face physical injury when they try to restrain a shoplifter.

“Often clerks try and stop somebody and then they actually get hit, they get pushed, or they get knocked down, and so sometimes I've had people say, ‘Well, you know, so a box store had $50.00 stolen from them, who cares, they can absorb it’," he said. “But what I actually find is that the people that are dealing with this are often low income workers that are doing everything right in society; showing up their jobs every day, often not making a lot of money and they're actually the ones bearing the brunt of either physical violence, danger or just this frustration that people are stealing from them all the time.”

Lower Paid Employees Suffer the Most Injuries from Shoplifters

Jennings said he will be reaching out to store owners to help them deal with the sheer numbers of petty thefts they are experiencing.

“We know that this is actually escalating and growing and that I do need to get some feedback from business owners in the community and those workers to see what we can do to address this issue,” he said. “I'd love that input from any of your listeners out there; I would welcome some ideas or input on what we can do and making sure that we're on the right track on how we're addressing this.”

Looking at the numbers, in 2019, Missoula reported 717 cases of shoplifting. In 2023, there were 1185 cases of shoplifting. Petty crimes are misdemeanors, and usually go before the municipal or city courts. Missoula experienced 200 more thefts in 2023, in addition to 65 more misdemeanor assaults and 60 more cases of vandalism.

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Gallery Credit: Ashley

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