Criminals with sticky fingers are swiping everything from baby formula to fancy fragrances and Halton police are cracking down on organized retail crime in Burlington, Oakville, Milton, and Halton Hills.
“A lot of these groups don’t have a problem resorting to violence,” said Halton police Sgt. Andy Dennis from Burlington’s District Response Unit.
A special project began last January after investigators used data mining to paint the big picture.
“We recognized that we had a problem with shoplifting,” said Dennis, adding “we decided to do something about it.”
Investigators quickly realized “we have a lot of suspects who are similar in description hitting a lot of our stores,” said Dennis, and began sending pictures to loss prevention officers – they’re not cops – who work in retail.
The partnership is paying off.
Six months in, “we keep getting results,” said Dennis.
“Almost every day we’re getting identifications on suspects.”
The project began in Burlington and is now being rolled out across Halton.
“Identifications of suspects have been made for each district in our region,” Dennis said.
Images of shoplifting suspects are being released weekly via social media as part of the initiative.
Suspects typically work in groups, Dennis said, starting with someone acting as a lookout.
“You’ll have a couple of people go in with booster bags” he said, noting the bags are specially lined so suspects can walk through the sensors at the doors without setting off alarms.
Items are then re-sold for profit.
“A lot of times what’s happening is they’re taking them to used clothing stores,” said Dennis — with the tags still on.
“They get the cash right away.”
Thieves target popular malls, with coveted brands including Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein.
Other items may immediately be listed online using sites such as Kijiji and Letgo.
But not all shoplifters are into clothing.
One case in Milton involves razor blades — an item Dennis says is pilfered strictly for re-sale.
“You’re not stealing it for yourself,” he said.
“A lot of times you end up seeing it in mom-and-pop variety stores. They retail for $10 — you sell them for a fraction of the price.”
Speaking of price, Dennis acknowledges there are taxpayers who say they want to see their money being spent on more serious police investigations.
“Our victims, our store owners, are losing money,” Dennis points out, and “the cost is passed to consumers.”
Across Canada, “this is about a $4 billion dollar a year industry,” he said.
And the numbers don’t lie.
Dennis can recount one shoplifting anecdote after another.
Nearly $10,000 worth of fragrances were stolen from one store in one shot, he said.
Another case involved a woman stealing thousands of dollars worth of high-end lingerie.
A huge bust entailed arresting “a gentleman for stealing items from the Apple store” who was identified through a loss prevention officer.
“We ended up doing a warrant on his residence,” said Dennis, and “we seized $64,000 in cash that was linked to organized shoplifting crime.”
As a proactive measure, police are teaming up with stores – which Dennis isn’t naming – to mark items which can then be traced.
It’s just a “matter of time before we catch up to who you are,” said Dennis.