Jeff Humphrey, Media Manager, 509.625.6308
Friday, August 26, 2022 at 3 p.m.
Last year, Washington state stores lost $2.7 billion in merchandise to shoplifting.
“There’s a lot of different tricks and tactics that these guys use to try and get away with their goods. They’ll go and purchase some small items, and then, stuff a bag full of a bunch of other concealed stuff,” explained Sgt. Brian Eckersley of the Spokane Police Department.
That’s why several times a year, the Spokane Police Department’s Stolen Property Enforcement and Recovery Unit runs special shoplifting sting operations.
“This is the kind of opportunity where we come out, in plain clothes, we work with the loss prevention employees at all these stores. So we have 14 stores that we’re in communication with right now,” Eckersley said as he sat inside his unmarked car at Walmart in north Spokane.
“So that we can kinda make a dent, and hopefully, change the attitude and behavior of those suspects who are coming out here. Because the ones we grab out here in the parking lot, who don’t expect it, that word is going to spread,” predicted Eckersley.
Detectives say it’s open season for shoplifting in Spokane, and retailers statewide are working on solutions they can bring to the legislature to fix the growing problem.
“And what we see is just an extreme increase in crime at these locations and a complete disregard, from the suspect, as far as getting caught,” stressed Eckersley.
And that’s why Spokane police and members of the SPEAR unit are working with in-store loss prevention officers, who are limited in what they can do, to force shoplifters into thinking twice about their take.
“I’ve had loss prevention tell me, when they go to try to make an apprehension on somebody, or even just to contact them and say ‘Hey, I see you’re stealing that TV there, can you stop that?’ that these people are actually citing the legislation, that they are aware of, and that they know what the stores can and cannot do,” Eckersley lamented.
Spokane police are also holding shoplifters more accountable by aggregating their series of related crimes.
During a recent sting operation, Tanner Williams was arrested for organized retail theft at Home Depot.
“Now that we’ve caught him doing something today, let’s look back in what he was a suspect in yesterday. Or two weeks ago, or three months ago. We can add those charges up. We can add up each of those incidents and make it a felony which it, rightly so, is,” emphasized Eckersley.
Like a lot of thieves, Williams says he’s addicted to illegal drugs like Fentanyl.
Shoplifters also steal cars, to help them make clean getaways.
“We have done several of these specials and we have yet not to find a stolen vehicle. And, generally, that vehicle is full of stolen property, because that’s how these people are existing and living,” detailed Spokane police Lt. Rob Boothe.
And that lifestyle is costing shoppers and business owners a lot of money.
“These guys are stealing thousands and thousands of dollars, every single day, from our local businesses, and you know that cost gets passed on down to us,” advised Eckersley.
And that’s why the retail industry is going to make another run at working with the state legislature on ways to slow the flow of stolen loot.
In the meantime, Eckersley has a warning for Spokane-area shoplifters.
“You might want to find some other way to sustain yourself, other than ripping off these stores, because the Spokane Police Department is out here and we’re working these cases.”