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.
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.