DENVER (KDVR) — It’s the sheer brazenness that stands out when the Problem Solvers reviewed surveillance video of shoplifters provided by the Castle Rock Police Department.
Again and again, the thieves made no effort to disguise their crimes, whether it was a couple grabbing an armload of clothes from a Polo store in Castle Rock, a trio of shoplifters taking all the sunglasses they could steal from a Sunglass Hut in Aurora or a gang of four people walking into an Ulta Beauty store in Lone Tree to load up their baskets with whatever they could carry.
Other than perhaps wearing a COVID face mask, the shoplifters were not discrete about what they did and were usually in and out of the store in 60 seconds.
While big chain retailers tend to be the targets of organized retail theft rings, small businesses have been hit too, including the Sports Fan on Denver’s 16th Street Mall.
Sports apparel store hit regularly during pandemic
Store owner Derek Friedman told the Problem Solvers during the height of COVID, shoplifters would walk out with $10,000 worth of sports apparel and merchandise on a monthly basis.
“Walk to the back of the store and grab something and then be confronted by an employee, ‘Hey, are you going to buy that?’ And then they just walk out,” Friedman said.
Friedman said he implemented new security measures and said shoplifting has come down at his stores but he added that organized retail crime is a huge issue nationwide because the bad guys have found it so easy to sell stolen goods online.
“I do think it was definitely pretty easy for folks (shoplifters) to understand that they had a marketplace with zero cost of goods,” he said.
Inconspicuous women shoplift at Boulder Sephora store
Boulder Police Detective Max Neuzil showed the Problem Solvers video from a Sephora cosmetics store where a pair of women shopping with a baby in a stroller would go through the aisles taking whatever they wanted for what he’s confident they later sold online.
“These individuals stole over $3,000 worth of product in about five minutes,” Neuzil said and added that one of the women seen in the Sephora surveillance video was later arrested in Milwaukee.
“These groups of individuals come and they travel around the country, stay in one place for a few days, steal from quite a few retail stores and then get out of town,” Neuzil said.
Organized retail crime is costing American stores a staggering sum of money. In 2021, $94 billion was lost due to shoplifting, according to a national retail security survey.
Colorado bill aims to crack down on organized crime
“Here in Colorado, we think it’s approaching a billion dollars. So we have some retail stores that are losing tens of millions of dollars a year,” Chris Howes, president of the Colorado Retail Council, said.
Howes is a big supporter of House Bill 22-1099, passed in Colorado, and a similar measure at the federal level, to go after organized crime theft.
“It tries to get at the problem of anonymous sales of stolen goods on the internet,” Howes said.
The new measure forces online marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace to track people who make 200 transactions in a year that net at least $5,000.
Online sellers have to give their bank account number, government-issued photo identification and tax identification number, along with a working email and phone number.
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser created a statewide task force to combat organized retail theft and to curb online sales of stolen goods when the new law went into effect on Jan. 1 this year.
“It’s safe to say that this kind of activity where retailers are losing tens of millions of dollars a year will add to the price of the product at the end of the day,” Howes said.
Retail theft causes prices to go up, violence is a concern
Organized retail crime causes consumer prices to go up and tax bases to shrink, especially in places like Castle Rock that rely heavily on sales taxes generated by its large outlet mall.
“In many communities, including Castle Rock, sales tax is what funds police, fire, roads and parks. So we certainly don’t want to have a loss of that type of sales tax,” Castle Rock Police Chief Jack Cauley said. The department is part of a regional task force devoted to stopping organized retail crime.
“Any avenue that we can take away from them, it’s going to be better for our investigators. And much easier for them to solve these types of crimes,” Cauley said.
One big concern repeatedly expressed by law enforcement to the Problem Solvers is the growing violence associated with shoplifting rings — criminals who use mace or pepper spray on store workers.
Denver police are still searching for two suspects who pepper sprayed employees at a Dollar General store near West 10th Avenue and North Sheridan Boulevard on Jan. 1.
The owner of the Sports Fan in Denver said he hopes the new measure makes a difference.
“This new law will allow people to really go through a process of now I’m being held accountable on Facebook Marketplace or whatever. And so this isn’t a venue for me to steal and then resell. And so instead, my hope is that they just go get a regular job. Also, we’re hiring,” Friedman said.