Editor’s note: This article was updated on Oct. 2 to include comment from a spokesperson for The Home Depot.
CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WIVB) — Nationwide, there’s been a huge spike in shoplifting cases across the country, including in Western New York.
Walden Ave. in Cheektowaga is a thoroughfare for shopping and now, retail theft. Police say they are using technology and key corporate partnerships to try and stop it.
Cheektowaga Police say it is cracking down on organized retail crime rings that are connected to other crimes like drug trade and online product resale. Chief Brian Gould says it has been difficult to police this type of crime because of changes in New York law and the strains it puts on his officers.
“We are working hard to investigate and shut down some of the organized retail crime rings whether they are out of town rings that are coming into our town because of the amount of retail here or local rings where they are sending people in day after day to shoplift,” Gould added.
The department has a crime analysis officer who works directly with retailers in the area to connect big box stores together.
“He links the store securities with each other, so if Macy’s knows someone is coming in and stealing from them, they’re sharing that information and pictures of those people with JC Pennys, Walmarts and Targets and stuff like that. We are increasing communication between the store securities,” Gould said.
Other mitigation strategies include hiring off-duty police officers to work as security guards at the stores and using technology, such as security cameras and license plate readers, to catch criminals before they leave the store grounds.
“We will find them. Technology is incredible nowadays,” Gould said.
The Galleria Mall has installed cameras and license plate readers around the parking lots to gather information on the criminals to pass to the police.
Chief Gould says Walmart and Home Depot, both off of Walden Avenue in Cheektowaga, are the top two locations his officers respond to for thefts. At the Thruway Plaza, Home Depot installed multiple cameras to monitor every angle of the parking lot.
“They’ve installed a large camera in the parking lot that gets very high definition pictures. They can zoom in on license plates of suspects and that helps us with our investigations,” Gould added.
A spokesperson for The Home Depot declined to comment on specific security measures taken at stores, saying to do so “would give criminals a roadmap to our practices.”
“While overall safety is a benefit of installing security cameras, it’s true that retail crime is an ongoing issue, and it has been on the rise over the last several years for many retailers,” the spokesperson said.
One retailer who has space in the Galleria told News 4 shoplifting has been out of control, but asked not to be identified because they fear the problem could get worse.
Chief Gould says his team has spoken with many big box stores in the area and they are all committed to staying in Cheektowaga. This comes just days after Target announced it was closing a handful of stores nationwide.
According to Erie County District Attorney John Flynn, prosecuting retail thefts is a challenge. He says changes to New York State laws, such as bail reform and Raise the Age legislation that requires suspects to be at least 18 years old to be prosecuted as an adult, have made it more difficult to keep offenders behind bars.
“What happens with the adults is that they’re not getting locked up, they’re not getting bail qualified, they’re out on bail and then they are committing more offenses when they are out on bail. With the kids, it’s more of an accountability issue and there’s no discipline,” Flynn said.
Flynn told News 4 the criminal justice system is lacking accountability and discipline leading to serial thieves roaming the streets.
“The criminal justice system has been turned upside down in the last two or three years here where we are no longer holding people accountable for their actions,” Flynn added.
Cheektowaga Police are launching an online reporting system so retailers and the public can report these types of crimes directly to the department. That is expected to launch in October.
Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native and Emmy-nominated reporter who joined the News 4 team in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.