Pro­gram to bat­tle re­tail theft de­liv­ers

Men­tor’s rep­u­ta­tion as a hot­bed for re­tail stores is well-known. In fact, Men­tor is the sixth-largest re­tail desti­na­tion in Ohio, with 300-plus stores and more than 170 eater­ies.

The News Herald (Willoughby, OH) - - Opinion -

While the vast as­sort­ment of re­tail­ers makes the city a pop­u­lar desti­na­tion for shoppers, it also at­tracts con­sumers with more de­vi­ous in­ten­tions — namely, shoplifters.

Three years ago, the Men­tor Po­lice De­part­ment set out to start a pro­gram to ad­dress an in­crease in drug-re­lated re­tail thefts. To launch this ini­tia­tive, the de­part­ment ap­plied for, and was awarded, a $25,000 match­ing grant from the Ohio Of­fice of Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Ser­vices.

Men­tor po­lice used this grant money to launch the Re­tail Theft Crime De­ter­rence Pro­gram. Now en­ter­ing its fourth year, the pro­gram has proven its ef­fec­tive­ness, and we be­lieve those ef­forts de­serve to be high­lighted.

First, we’re im­pressed at how the pro­gram has played a role in re­duc­ing the num­ber of drug ad­dicts caught shoplift­ing at Men­tor stores.

Re­tail theft and drugs have be­come in­ter­twined in to­day’s crim­i­nal cli­mate be­cause many users of il­le­gally ob­tained nar­cotics, es­pe­cially opi­ates, steal to fuel their ad­dic­tions, author­i­ties have said.

The Re­tail Theft Crime De­ter­rence Pro­gram recorded 76 ar­rests in 2017, 32 of which in­volved ad­dicts. Half of those were heroin users.

There were five fewer ar­rests than the pre­vi­ous year, but the num­ber of ad­dicts was down by 17.

“Of­fi­cers work­ing the de­tail noted a drop-off of drug users, es­pe­cially those ad­dicted to heroin, who were com­mit­ting daily thefts to sup­port their drug habit,” said Men­tor Pa­trol­man and Crime Pre­ven­tion Spe­cial­ist Jim Col­lier.

“They were aware of the ag­gres­sive en­force­ment ac­tion be­ing taken by the po­lice de­part­ment. In­for­ma­tion learned from ar­rested sub­jects was that drug users were go­ing out of their way to avoid be­ing in the city of Men­tor be­cause ‘word on the street’ was that po­lice were work­ing store park­ing lots.”

It’s good to hear that the pro­gram is gain­ing a rep­u­ta­tion for its en­force­ment ef­forts and, as a re­sult, dis­cour­ag­ing at least some drug ad­dicts from shoplift­ing in Men­tor.

Another thing we like about the Re­tail Theft Crime De­ter­rence Pro­gram is the fact that of­fi­cers in the unit work co­op­er­a­tively with loss pre­ven­tion of­fi­cers and en­cour­age store staff to call po­lice when sus­pi­cious ac­tiv­ity is in progress.

“Loss pre­ven­tion agents have shown strong sup­port for this prac­tice dur­ing the past years,” Col­lier said. “Our ef­forts in­clude the de­sire to con­tin­u­ally add more re­tail­ers to our net­work and pro­vide in­for­ma­tion (and) aware­ness to re­tail­ers, cit­i­zens and lo­cal me­dia sources.”

We also give credit to the of­fi­cers in the Re­tail Theft Crime De­ter­rence Pro­gram for de­tect­ing chang­ing trends in shoplift­ing.

At a time when shoplift­ing by drug users is de­creas­ing, the sur­veil­lance de­tail dis­cov­ered a shift to­ward groups steal­ing from re­tail­ers for profit. Of­fi­cers re­sponded by aim­ing their ef­forts at stores ex­pe­ri­enc­ing thefts by in­di­vid­u­als work­ing in groups, usu­ally two to four peo­ple.

“Th­ese groups of peo­ple will work to­gether to select/stage items in­side the store and then pri­mar­ily use booster bags or other forms of con­ceal­ment to re­move the items from the stores,” Col­lier said.

“In many cases, th­ese groups were com­ing from other cities, of­ten out of the county, to com­mit th­ese shoplift­ing of­fenses and then tak­ing the items and sell­ing them di­rectly to other peo­ple who were plac­ing or­ders for spe­cific items.”

Some of those ar­rested from th­ese groups in­di­cated that they were aware of the Re­tail Theft Crime De­ter­rence Pro­gram, but were not dis­suaded by the in­creased po­lice pres­ence.

“In­stead, they were con­duct­ing th­ese thefts strictly as a type of busi­ness and their be­ing ar­rested on that oc­ca­sion was just the cost of do­ing busi­ness,” Col­lier said.

So even though th­ese types of shoplifters might not be de­terred by the pro­gram, at least of­fi­cers in the unit are aware of such groups work­ing to com­mit re­tail thefts and will be vig­i­lant in striv­ing to thwart their at­tempts.

If you’re look­ing for other num­bers to as­sess the im­pact of the Re­tail Theft De­ter­rence Pro­gram, con­sider that of­fi­cers in the unit last year re­cov­ered more than $11,000 worth of stolen prop­erty. Dur­ing the past three years, the to­tal re­cov­ered stands at nearly $40,000.

We be­lieve that the Men­tor Po­lice De­part­ment’s Re­tail Theft Crime De­ter­rence Pro­gram has pro­vided a more or­ga­nized, com­pre­hen­sive and col­lab­o­ra­tive ap­proach to bat­tling re­tail theft in the city.

We hope that more re­tail­ers will be­come in­volved in the pro­gram, to help stem the costly fi­nan­cial losses at­trib­uted to shoplifters.

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