Public helps Waterford police solve many shoplifting cases
Waterford ― If you follow the town’s police department on Facebook, you’ve seen the posts accompanied by surveillance photos of suspected shoplifters.
The posts usually begin with, “Assistance needed to identify,” and continue with a description of a “subject” and what they allegedly stole.
This past week, the “subject” was a man accused of stealing $741.47 worth of Red Bull and 5-Hour energy drinks from Stop and Shop on May 22. The Waterford Police Department’s Facebook post showed a surveillance photo and indicated the man left in a small red truck, similar to the size of a Ford Ranger.
The Facebook status was updated later with, “Thank you all very much, the subject has been positively identified.”
Police handle hundreds of shoplifting cases each year, and sharp social media scrollers have shown they’re willing to help out.
Police Chief Marc Balestracci writes most of the posts.
“We have found tremendous value in this process as our community has proven many times that they are willing to assist our agency in solving these crimes,” said Balestracci, who was interviewed by email and phone.
The town is vulnerable to retail theft due to the sheer number of big box and other stores in town, including Crystal Mall ― though diminished in recent years ― and Waterford Commons. Walmart Supercenter at 155 Waterford Parkway North keeps the department busiest, with 143 larceny incidents reported since January 2021.
During that 2.5-year time frame, the town’s police department has handled about 560 calls for larceny, including shoplifting, according to information provided in response to a Freedom of Information request.
The department made arrests in 261 of the cases. Retailers declined to file charges in 143 cases; 18 were false alarms and 16 remain active. The remainder of the investigations are listed as “suspended/inactive.”
The police keep up on the latest larceny tools and trends and nurture their relationships with local businesses.
“Throughout the year, we spend considerable time working with our retail partners in town to ensure they have safe locations and that crime is prevented, investigated and solved,” said Balestracci. “Depending on the incident, we may spend significant time solving a theft or a very short amount of time.”
If the suspects are local, police may know them or identify them easily, resulting in a relatively short investigation.
But if a store is a victim of organized retail theft, in which a group of people conspire to steal and resell items, “often times these subjects are experienced in tactics which make it more difficult to solve,” Balestracci said, and the police often have to work with state, local or federal agencies.
This past Wednesday, the department asked Facebook users to share a post “far and wide” as they seek to identify three males accused of stealing approximately $4,000 worth of Zyrtec pills from the BJ's store on Cross Road and fleeing in a car bearing a Pennsylvania license plate that had been stolen from New York City.
The theft of Zyrtec, an antihistamine, is “becoming a more common trend at certain stores in our state,” the post noted.
During the busy holiday shopping season, officers walk the stores and otherwise make their presence known in an attempt to deter crime and provide a sense of security to customers, the chief said.
Some of the stores have in-house staff dedicated to loss prevention. The retailers also have their own anti-theft strategies.
Stores like CVS, Ulta Beauty, The Home Depot and Dick’s Sporting Goods have taken measures to combat crimes, some by locking up specific items of merchandise.
Dick’s had high-end baseball gloves tagged with alarm sensors and secured to the wall during a recent visit. The golf clubs are also tagged with alarms, and a number of high-priced items are locked away.
A local CVS Pharmacy had a number of items locked away along with store policies and procedures, but representatives of the company declined to discuss the specifics of their security measures “so as not to undermine them.”
A representative from The Home Depot told The Day that a selection of power tools are protected by an assortment of alarming cables and locked cages, similar to measures used by other retailers. The store said it is constantly looking for better solutions to “balance safety and convenience” for its customers.
In the National Retail Federation’s most recent retail security survey, published in 2022, the organization found that most survey participants are looking into Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology, artificial intelligence analytics and surveillance, facial and license plate recognition systems and increasing locked merchandise to enhance their security measures.
RFID technology uses radio waves to identify people or objects. There is a device that reads information contained in a wireless device or “tag” from a distance without making any physical contact or requiring a line of sight.
Retailers were asked which programs they use with their staff to mitigate their losses. An overwhelming majority, more than 90%, said they update their code of conduct for store associates. More than 80% said they have implemented active shooter training, an anonymous tip hot line number and an increased use of bulletin board notices. More than 70% said they use computer-based training videos and face-to-face training during orientations for new employees.
The survey found that the average shrink rate in 2021, or loss of inventory, was 1.4%. As a percentage of total retail sales, that number represents $94.5 billion in losses, an increase of nearly $4 billion from 2020.
Though the survey found that some of these losses can be attributed to organized retail crimes, which nationally jumped 26.5% last year, local Public Defender Sean Kelly said the lower-level cases ― those that involve a lone individual ― are more common in his office than the organized crime.
Kelly, who works out of Geographical Area 10 courthouse in New London, told The Day that sixth-degree larceny charges come across his desk “with some frequency,” and that each case is unique and should be handled as such.
The sixth-degree larceny charge pertains to thefts of property valued at $500 or less and is a Class C misdemeanor, with a maximum punishment of up to three months in prison and/or a $500 fine.
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