This holiday season, Jackson County is cracking down on Country Club Plaza shoplifters
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker has launched an effort to charge more cases of retail theft and illegal firearms on the Plaza.
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker is partnering with Country Club Plaza retailers in hopes of curbing shoplifting and cutting down on shoppers bringing weapons into stores.
Baker says she will create a more “expedient and direct path” to her office, slightly changing the model of police leading investigations. Plaza security officers will send video surveillance of possible thefts to the prosecutor’s office, and if it has sufficient evidence, it will forward the case to the Kansas City Police Department for further investigation.
Baker says she received Police Chief Stacey Graves' consent for the effort, which Baker described as a way to save police staff time while focusing on charging more cases. She doesn’t charge juvenile cases, she says, but is cooperating with the family and municipal courts on cases that may appear there.
“We just want to provide a service that says, ‘Hey, if you think the Plaza is an easy target, you might think again,’” Baker says.
In a letter to Plaza businesses sent in October, Baker also said she can charge people carrying weapons illegally — with a caveat. The business must first post a sign that weapons are not allowed in the store, because state law allows for a misdemeanor violation when people bring a firearm into a business where such signage is posted, she said.
“The law does not allow a lot of punishment here, it’s a little swipe,” Baker says. “However, it is another opportunity to remind individuals, ‘You don’t get to go anywhere you want with a weapon, even in the state of Missouri.’”
A representative for Taubman, the company that owns the Country Club Plaza, did not return a phone call seeking comment. Taubman is in talks to sell the property to a Dallas-based company.
Retail theft has received a lot of attention since stores reopened after the pandemic and viral videos of smash-and-grab crimes are popular online and national TV. That said, crime statistics on shoplifting haven’t jumped in most major cities — except New York — according to a study by the nonpartisan think tank Council on Criminal Justice.
The attention led last year to a national partnership between the Retail Industry Leaders Association and the National District Attorneys Association to address retail crime and habitual theft. Baker says that gave her the idea for the local effort.
While the problem isn’t a crisis here, there was an incident on the Plaza that Baker says concerned her. On the evening of August 25, an armed man tried to steal from JD Sports, a sneaker and athleticwear store. A manager allegedly tried to stop him and was shot in the arm, according to reports. JD Sports has a sign near its front door barring firearms, Baker says.
“We’re not seeing the intensity other cities are seeing,” Baker says. “That doesn’t mean that I don’t want to engage and shove my shoulder into this.”
So far, Baker says her office is working on five cases from separate incidents. And, she says, other retailers have approached her office hoping to partner with prosecutors.
Emily Bordner, owner of EB & Co., an accessories shop on the Plaza, says she sees Baker’s effort as a positive move. Shoplifting was on the rise last holiday season, Bordner said, but hasn’t been as bad this year.
“I think any extra support and eyes are appreciated, for sure,” Bordner says. “We’re excited to see the Plaza bustling again soon.”