E. County police rally to fight shoplifting

The Monroe Police Department introduced Monroe City Council and Mayor Geoffrey Thomas to the new East Snohomish County Retail Theft Group on Tuesday, July 22 at Monroe City Hall.
Sgt. Paul Ryan, who is currently leading the effort, explained that the group is focused on shoplifting prevention and was formed to address the growing rate of retail theft crimes occurring in Monroe.
"In 2013 we had 56 incidents of shoplift throughout the entire year,GÇ¥ said Ryan. "Up to today's date this year we're already up to 45.GÇ¥
That's almost a 100 percent increase, explained Ryan.
The group's methodology thus far has included working with the Monroe Chamber of Commerce and local retail establishments to develop a network of Monroe businesses who want to work together to address the issue of retail theft. A key strategy has been to open up the lines of communication between the businesses and local law enforcement. The group will be meeting on a monthly basis to exchange information regarding incidents of shoplift as well as things like graffiti abatement strategy.
Eighteen individuals representing eight businesses along the U.S. 2 corridor attended the first meeting, which was held in May. The U.S. 2 corridor seems to be a popular region for retail theft.
"What we've seen is that it's mostly affecting businesses along the SR 2 corridor, although we have seen some incidents along Main Street as well,GÇ¥ explained Ryan.
One key aspect that has helped this recent effort is an RCW that was passed in the Washington state legislature in 2009 which enables merchants to create and share a property crime database. The data, once collected, can be shared with other merchants, law enforcement officials and legal professionals.
Another RCW allows several incidents of misdemeanor retail theft to be lumped together if the value of the stolen property exceeds $750 over a six-month timeframe.
"What's happening is we're finding folks are shoplifting 30 dollars here, 30 dollars there, and maybe 30 dollars in another jurisdiction,GÇ¥ explained Ryan.
Per the RCW, if law enforcement can connect these types of incidents, the charges go from a misdemeanor to a felony.
Sharing information, including surveillance and apprehension photos, is proving to be useful when it comes to identifying suspects. Ryan said that during the retail theft group's last meeting, a surveillance photo from one of Monroe's retail establishments was distributed to the meeting attendees. The photo showed an individual who had cut the security cable on a computer tablet device and had run out of the store.
A Snohomish Police Sergeant recognized the perpetrator as somebody who was suspected of recently committing property crimes in both Snohomish and Everett. Once the suspect is identified and apprehended, law enforcement will likely be able to link all three cases and bump the charges up to a felony.
As a whole, Monroe Police Department officers have been trying to place a greater emphasis on shoplifting prevention and abatement.
"On a street level what we're seeing is officers are just keeping their eye out for it,GÇ¥ said Ryan. "More than they have in the past.GÇ¥
This added alertness, along with the heightened awareness generated by the retail theft group, seems to be having an impact so far. Ryan explained that an officer recently interrupted a theft-in-progress as he was driving through a parking lot. The officer noticed an individual walking out of a store with a hand-basket filled with meat.
If store products are simply placed into baskets or shopping carts without grocery bags, this can indicate that the individual has filled up their cart and simply walked out of the store without paying for the goods. In the case of the meat-theft, the officer discovered additional stolen property on the suspect which had come from a different grocery store in the area.
On another occasion, members of the Monroe Police Department's ProAct team were performing surveillance in a parking lot and witnessed an individual running out of a business. Once he started to drive away, officers pulled him over and discovered stolen property from three different local businesses in his vehicle.
Sgt. Ryan explained that they are seeing a little bit of everything when it comes to retail theft. As far as items stolen specifically for resale, he explained that those are primarily things like electronics, razors, alcohol and Crest Whitestrips.
Items like electronics, electric razors and Crest Whitestrips can often be traded to drug dealers in lieu of cash.
"Really, the majority of the folks that we're arresting for shoplifting are heroin addicts,GÇ¥ said Ryan.
He also shared that many of the perpetrators are repeat offenders.
The next East Snohomish County Retail Theft Group meeting will take place at 10 a.m. on Thursday, August 14 at Ben Franklin in Monroe.
"Ben Franklin has been extremely helpful in this effort,GÇ¥ said Ryan. "They've actually provided a meeting space for us on a monthly basis and I just wanted to publicly acknowledge them for their assistance.GÇ¥
As far as the group's leadership, Sgt. Ryan eventually hopes to pass the torch onto somebody within the business community.
"The intent of the program in the future is that it will be handed off to someone in the business community,GÇ¥ said Ryan. "And then the police department will take more of a partnership role.GÇ¥
For more information on the retail theft prevention group, contact the Monroe Police Department at 360-794-6300.


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