Black Friday starts season of crime for police

'Tis the season for turkey dinners, football games, shoplifting and identity theft.

Police in Waterford and Groton, which host many of the region's major shopping outlets, say they are ready for the frenzied holiday shopping season - and the crimes and mishaps it inevitably entails.

The season began on Thanksgiving Day this year, when many of the major retailers decided to open and offer the traditional "doorbuster" bargains usually reserved for Black Friday.

"Last night we had well over half the available patrol staff out at various retailers," said Lt. Brett Mahoney of the Waterford Police Department, who supervises patrols in the Route 85 shopping corridor. "They started the sales early and were looking for crowd control and crowd protection."

The retailers, and not the taxpayers, pay for the extra police protection, but the season still taxes police departments, which respond to more car accidents in retail areas. Rear-end accidents, in which drivers fails to stop in time to avoid hitting the slowed or stopped car in front of them, occur frequently near the intersection of Route 85 and Interstate 95.

Then there are the inevitable fights over parking spaces, he said.

"It's not Christmas without someone punching somebody in the parking lot," he said.

Shoplifting is a constant throughout the year, Mahoney said. Young people and drug addicts steal from stores on a daily basis, and professional shoplifting teams come through regularly to pilfer tens of thousands of dollars' worth of high-end merchandise for quick resale, he said.

In the past five years, identity theft has become the preferred method for the more professional retail theives. They compromise someone's identity by obtaining personal information, using it to obtain credit cards, then going on binge shopping sprees for expensive electronic items that they can sell for cash, Mahoney said.

"It's far easier for two people to come up from New York and have six or seven credit cards and go on a spree that way," Mahoney said. "They put everything in their car and keep moving store to store."

Some retailers pursue thefts more aggressively than others, Mahoney said.

"If people see something, they should tell us," he said. "The reason we all pay such high prices in retail is because these people steal."

Waterford Detective Sgt. Joseph DePasquale said the town encounters every type of organized retail crime group that travels the Northeast corridor.

"They're very transient in nature and very professional," he said. "It usually involves multiple players and multiple suspects."

The shoplifters work in teams. Some members will distract the clerks while others fill lead-lined "booster bags" or jackets with high-end goods. The linings block signals from the magnetic security tags that stores attach to each item so that the shoplifters can exit stores undetected.

"The next thing you know, the high-end stores are missing $10,000 to $20,000 worth of items," DePasquale said.

Groton Town Detective Lt. John W. Varone said the town had 106 shoplifting arrests in the first 11 months of this year, with a total of 118 reported shoplifting cases. Many of the stores hire in-house loss-prevention staff and surveillance cameras to catch thieves in the act.

"With today's technology, we're able to grab photos and distribute them," Varone said.

The professional shoplifting teams will sell the stolen goods on eBay or Craigslist. The more "common criminals," typically drug addicts needing to support their habit, will sell the stolen items to friends or other stores for pennies on the dollar, he said.

Some of the items commonly stolen include baby formula, Red Bull energy drinks and large quantities of meat. And the thieves typically are not needy people stealing to feed their families, he said. The truly needy generally are connected with the appropriate social services, Varone said.


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