How local law enforcement are working to stop organized retail crime



Organized retail crime is rising across the country, according to the National Retail Federation. In Western New York, local law enforcement said they’re constantly working to stop it.

“They’ll steal goods and products from various stores, sometimes taking orders,” Officer Craig Johnson, field intelligence officer for the Amherst Police Department, said. Johnson said organized shoplifting rings operate locally and even statewide.

“[They’ll go] down the thru way through the major cities, Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, even to Erie, Pennsylvania,” he said. HE said the thieves use stolen ID’s and credit cards to rent cars. They’ll even sometimes steal a license plate from another car to put on their rental. Then they spend hours stealing from stores, including items like clothing, medication, baby formula and even appliances. They then move on to another city by the time law enforcement is notified.

“They could be from different states. They could be from downstate New York. It’s very hard to find out that information of who these people are,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the thieves then return the stolen items to a different store in different cities, sometimes for gift cards. They also sell the items online on Facebook, Twitter and even SnapChat.

According to the National Retail Federation, 83% of merchants surveyed this year reported an increase in organized retail crime. In Erie County, close to 3900 arrests were made for shoplifting in 2015. Just more than 3,850 arrests were made for shoplifting so far in 2016.

Officer Don Szumigala of the Cheektowaga Police Department is the head of the Organized Retail Crimes Task-Force in Erie County. It’s a group of law enforcement from different areas of the county. They started the group about 8 years ago to crack down on shoplifting.

“We speak to each other about which jurisdictions are having issues, which shoplifters are crossing over lines and we work together to get those people arrested,” Szumigala said.

They also work with store employees to find out the latest trends of how people are stealing from stores. They also notify employees of suspects to look out for.

“The goal of the group is primarily to deter the shoppers. If the stores can be knowledgeable about who these people are before they enter the store, they can stop them hopefully at the door before they steal something,” Szumigala said.

Once they steal something, it’s a loss for retailers and it also puts you at risk. A statement released earlier this year by retail council of New York State president and CEO Ted Potrikus said in part quote, “It’s the consumer who’s more at risk when thieves replace, relabel and re-sell merchandise that is expired, improperly stores or otherwise tainted.”

Buying those stolen items could also get you in trouble with the law. You could be charged with possession of stolen property and investigators can also confiscate the item you bought, putting you out the money you spent. Johnson said there are things to look out for to make sure what you’re buying is legit.

“If you look and see there’s 30 pairs of North Face fleeces and 30 pairs of boots, there might be a red flag on that,” he said.

So far the task force has worked with store managers to make several changes to prevent shoplifting. One is putting a limit on the amount people can buy on gift cards without showing addition ID.

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