The National Retail Federation urged the House to approve legislation that would establish a new unit at the Department of Justice focused on investigating and prosecuting organized retail crime.

“This bill is one of the keys to protecting both retailers and consumers against the massive economic costs and very real public health and safety risks posed by organized retail crime,” NRF Senior Vice President for Government Relations Steve Pfister said. “Establishing a team of law enforcement professionals dedicated to fighting these crimes and working in close consultation with retailers shows the importance of the issue to industry, consumers and law enforcement, and serves as an important deterrent to perpetrators.”

Pfister's comments came in a letter sent today to members of the House, which is expected to vote this week on H.R. 5932, the Organized Retail Theft Investigation and Prosecution Act of 2010. Introduced this summer by Representative Bobby Scott, D-Va., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, the bill is cosponsored by Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., Ranking Member Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and committee member Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.

The measure would create an Organized Retail Theft Investigation and Prosecution Unit in the Department of Justice staffed with investigators, prosecutors and other personnel as necessary. The unit would be charged with investigating and prosecuting instances of ORC over which the Department of Justice has jurisdiction, assisting state and local law enforcement agencies on ORC and advising victims of ORC.

Under the bill, “organized retail theft” would be defined as obtaining retail merchandise by illegal means for the purpose of reselling or otherwise placing such merchandise back into the stream of commerce, aiding or abetting the commission of such acts, or conspiring to commit such acts.

In addition, the Attorney General would be required to submit a report containing recommendations on how retailers, online businesses, and law enforcement agencies can help prevent and combat organized retail crime to the Judiciary Committee. The bill would also authorize $5 million per year for fiscal years 2011 through 2015 to fund the new program.

Retailers lose between $15 and $30 billion to ORC each year, according to the FBI and retail loss prevention experts. In addition, 89 percent of retailers reported that they were victims of organized retail crime in the past year, according to an annual NRF survey released earlier this year.

NRF said ORC rings typically target everyday consumer products that are in high demand and easy to steal such as infant formula, razor blades, batteries, analgesics, cosmetics and gift cards. More expensive products such as DVDs, CDs, video games, designer clothing and electronics are also highly prized. Once stolen, the goods are resold at pawn shops, flea markets, swap meets and on the Internet. The thefts force retailers to increase prices to cover the losses, and threaten public health when crime rings tamper with items such as infant formula or medication by extending expiration dates or repackaging and relabeling the items.