Action News 5 Investigates: No Purchase Necessary - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Reported by Jason Miles

Action News 5 Investigates: No Purchase Necessary

Along with a recent FBI ranking that put Memphis at the top of the list of most violent metropolitan areas in the country, the city now has another claim to fame:  It's at the top of the list for shoplifting.

Chad Salter,  Loss Prevention Manager for Schnuck's grocery stores, said shoplifting is big problem for the retain chain.  Salter said food boxes are a popular instrument for shoplifters.

"They'll box it up with cereal boxes and have a space in the middle to hide it," he said.

Salter said over the counter medications, razors, infant formula, and even steaks are prime targets for thieves.

"You'd be surprised what lengths they'll go to get them out of the store," he said.

Schnucks has surveillance cameras throughout their stores, and signs warning customers that they are being watched.  The signs are meant to make shoplifters think twice before committing a crime, but aren't always effective.

"I don't think it's something you'll ever be able to eliminate," Salter said.

Not in the Mid-South, anyway.  The Memphis metropolitan area tops the nation when it comes to shoplifting numbers.  More products are swiped from the shelves in Memphis than cities like Detroit and Los Angeles.   According to the TBI's latest numbers, nearly 5834 shop-lifting crimes were reported in Memphis in 2006.

Shelby County Sheriff Mark Luttrell said his department is working to reduce that number.

"We've seen such a significant growth in that type of criminal behavior," he said. "In 2004, we said 'What can we do to interdict this problem?'"

Luttrell said that was how ALERT, or Area Law Enforcement Retail Team, was born.  (Click here for more information on ALERT.) 

ALERT is made up of officers specifically committed to cracking shoplifting cases.  The group even has a website where retailers and the public can submit tips and share information.  Lt. Richard Nelson, who works with ALERT, said stores can even send in surveillance video. 

"Within an hour, we can have someone identified,whereas before, it would take you days to do so," he said.

Investigator Dee Bowling showed Action News 5 a surveillance clip in which two women brought along a baby during a shoplifting spree.  After loading a shopping cart, the pair left it behind before leaving the store.  An accomplice then entered the store, located the cart, and attempted to leave with it.  Store security caught on to the scheme, and stopped the man.

"It's not just simple shoplifting anymore," Bowling said.  "It is organized criminal behavior."

ALERT has made nearly 700 arrests since its inception, and has recovered more than $1 million in stolen property.  Much of that turns up at stores than buy stolen goods, plus flea markets where crooks often cash in.

"Somebody that steals from me will go down to another retailer and steal from them, and so on," he said.

Shoplifting stats from 2006

  • Memphis:  5834 offenses
  • Bartlett:  180
  • Collierville:  143
  • Covington:  34
  • Germantown:  46
  • Millington: 41
  • Shelby County:  133
  • Fayette County:  2
  • Tipton County:  7

Source:  TBI

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