New police unit focused on retail theft, hopes to ID habitual offenders

New police unit focused on retail theft, hopes to ID habitual offenders

. - Shoplifting is not a violent crime and may appear to be victimless, but investigators say it affects all of us.

"Every time that you go to the store and you pay for an item you're paying for that, you're paying for loss," Captain Allan Rutledge.

Investigators say the heroin problem is making the issue worse.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police (CMPD) says it has a new way of catching these thieves and making sure they get more than a slap on the wrist.

CMPD says there have been 3,600 cases of retail theft this year.  They solved and closed 90% of the cases where the items stolen are worth less than $100.  And they are working to improve their 79% rate for cases where the items stolen are worth more than $100.

Detectives say there's a difference between shoplifters and boosters, who are getting money to fuel their addiction.

"And normally boosters they don't steal one, two or three things, they're stealing thousands and thousands of dollars it can be from one store or two stores," said detective Shawn Blee.

Surveillance video from one case shows a thief stealing thousands of dollars worth of medications, razors and white strips.

"Based on my investigation into a lot of boosting and the organized retail crime the majority of people we arrest have a serious heroin problem," Blee said.

Blee is part of CMPD's retail theft unit.

The newly formed unit met Thursday with loss prevention folks from all different stores, who are the victims in these cases.

"We'll have them where they'll pick up two at a time and walk out the door with them," said Alan Buck of Bed, Bath and Beyond.

Buck says there are 500 members locally of an organization called Carolina's Organized Retail Crime Alliance (CORCA). Buck says the creation of a Carolinas intranet site for stores and police has already helped him.

"I've had cases where I've posted on there and I'll get hits from Durham, where they've arrested these people," Buck said.

Buck says the key is identifying habitual offenders so they are put away for a felony.

"Serve an active time versus just a slap on the wrist and getting back out on the streets," Buck said.

When a theft happens, someone can post a pic of the suspect and others are alerted.

"Within an hour he had responses back from other retailers that were able to help him identify that individual," said Captain Allan Rutledge of CMPD.

Rutledge said they've always worked with stores, but this shows they are dedicated to stopping the sophisticated and organized thieves.

"We want the criminals out there stealing these items to know that they not only have to be concerned about the police department, they need to be concerned about the eyes and ears inside the store," Rutledge said.

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