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Hundreds of thefts reported at Charlotte airport with few cases ever solved

Updated: May. 17, 2021 at 6:20 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The Charlotte-Douglas International Airport is covered with cameras, security, and cops. All of it is designed to keep you and your stuff safe.

But a WBTV investigation has found nearly 200 cases of theft at the airport and very few of them were solved.

WBTV started looking into this issue after viewer Scott Shorter emailed the Investigates team about his situation at the airport.

Shorter retired from the Marines and last November was flying to visit one of his veteran friends in San Diego with a special gift.

“I was able to get 2 XBOX’s. I got one for me and a friend I had served in Iraq with back in ’04,” Shorter said.

Whatever stereotypes you have about gaming know this. It connects millions of people across the world and that includes Shorter with his friends from the military.

“One of the things we were getting with the console was we were going to get the new Cyberpunk game and play online every day,” Shorter said.

When Shorter got to San Diego and opened his checked luggage, the brand-new XBOX was missing.

“My heart sank. Just heartbreak,” Shorter said.

Shorter filed reports with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, TSA and Frontier Airlines but felt that none of them took it seriously.

“In their (criminal’s) mind it’s over, they got away with it,” Shorter said.

Frontier Airlines told Shorter that their Contract of Carriage doesn’t cover stolen items.

Shorter said that TSA told him they would only investigate if he could provide an inspection receipt, but he couldn’t find one in his suitcase.

Then there was CMPD.

“The first thing he (the CMPD officer) told me when he got on the phone was ‘I understand you have a problem with the investigation. Maybe the first thing you need to realize is your XBOX is gone and you’re not getting it back’,” Shorter told WBTV.

Shorter said CMPD only started looking into his XBOX theft after he started calling and emailing frequently. He said an officer told him he found footage of his luggage being searched by an employee but no video of the actual XBOX being stolen.

“You would think when you go to an airport, as secure as it is that you’re safe. Then I found out there that you may be safe, but your items are not,” Shorter said.

“CMPD also told me that nobody there would steal it because they have good jobs and they wouldn’t lose it. They wouldn’t lose their jobs over stealing an XBOX,” Shorter said,

Police departments in other cities have conducted entire investigations and arrested dozens of employees caught stealing from bags.

We wanted to see just how frequently it was happening in Charlotte so we filed a record request with CMPD for theft reports at the airport since January of 2020.

We found seven reports of passengers claiming items were stolen from their checked luggage but the total number of thefts was stunning.

In just a little over a year there were 190 reports of theft at the airport. The majority of them came from people who said something was stolen at a checkpoint, in a terminal or even on the plane.

21 stolen laptops, 36 wallets and purses and 23 cellphones.

Of the 190 theft reports only seven have been cleared by arrest. Two of those were for shoplifting from airport stores, one arrest was from a different agency and two more were for thefts that happened in the parking lot.

Shorter is far from alone.

“I just couldn’t believe how easy it was for it to be stolen and how on the backside of it there’s just no repercussions,” Shorter said.

WBTV reached out to CMPD about the amount of thefts and the lack of arrests. CMPD provided slightly different data that showed the same result – 215 larceny reports and just nine arrests.

CMPD noted that

- Security cameras are not exclusively anti-theft tools

- Don’t cover every area of the airport

- No cameras inside belly of planes

- If theft involves employees at airport, they are aware of camera placement

For Shorter, CMPD said the investigating officer reviewed video and looked at the area where his bag was inspected but didn’t see anything unusual or alarming. The review of his case did not include questioning any airport employees or vendors.

CMPD pointed to 22 cases since 2018 where larceny reports were solved and resulted in arrests or with the victim choosing not to prosecute. Of those, five were cases where employees or vendors were caught stealing from passengers at the airport.

Airport experts said there’s a number of things passengers can do to protect their belongings.

  • Mark your bags
  • Move through checkpoint with your belongings
  • Stow carry-on where you can see it
  • Lock your bag
  • If you need it, wear it

Shorter feels like he was careful with his prized possession but said he was left frustrated with the investigation afterward.

“It was just mind blowing to me how easy that thing was gone and no kind of follow-up at all. Just it’s gone,” Shorter said.

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