WASHINGTON (7News) — D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said during a news conference Thursday that decriminalizing illegal vending has to be reversed. The mayor’s remarks come after a rise in shoplifting in certain areas of the District.
In Columbia Heights, Target no longer allows people under the age of 18 inside if they are not accompanied by an adult. Across the street at the CVS, shelves have been wiped out from thieves. It’s a problem that’s been going on for months.
Then right outside the stores with empty shelves, you sometimes find street vendors who are selling unavailable items.
This has led to questions about whether the city should ensure street vendors aren't selling stolen goods.
“The council has decriminalized vending,” Mayor Bowser said Thursday. “So, you can do what you want in terms of vending.”
However, D.C. Councilman Robert White told 7News, “Selling stolen goods is illegal and it remains illegal. The law decriminalizing street vending that the council passed last year removed red tape and bureaucracy for people who earn a living selling cut fruit, hot food, etc., who were frequently being harassed by police.”
Last year, D.C. Councilmember Brianne Nadeau celebrated efforts to decriminalize street vending.
“I think it’s important to get the facts out there for folks,” Nadeau said. “Street vending is a civil offense if you’re not licensed, but vending illegal goods is still illegal. Shoplifting is illegal.”
“So, in Columbia Heights, for example, the majority of the vendors there are residents who were selling food or things that they made by hand or things that they’re acquired legally,” Nadeau added.
But just this week, outside of the same CVS, fliers posted were targeting a nearby Safeway. It read, “shoplifters unite. Take Everything that’s not nailed down. Bust windows.”
The fliers are sparking new concerns.
“Those fliers to me come across as fabricated and meant to incite,” said Nadeau. “There isn't even a Safeway in Columbia Heights, so, it’s kind of a strange place to put those posters. I think it’s a distraction from where our real focus needs to be, which is addressing crime.”
According to the city, thefts in D.C. were up 23% in 2023 compared to 2022.