By Andrea Cordle
“Don’t come to Grove City and steal from our stores,” said Grove City Division of Police Sgt. Doug Olmstead. “If you do, you’re going to get caught and you’ll go to jail.”
That is the message Olmstead had for career criminals.
The division of police is cracking down on retail theft in the community through the Retail Operation Program. Grove City is one of the first law enforcement agencies in Ohio to develop a program like this to interact with local retailers and expose criminals.
The Retail Operation Program is supervised by the special operations bureau in the division of police, which consists of five officers who investigate retail theft, narcotics and prostitution. According to Olmstead, retail theft, narcotics and prostitution are all connected, and heroin is feeding the issue.
“We are going after the unemployable addict,” said Olmstead. “These people wake up in the morning with the sole focus to get money to buy heroin.”
Olmstead said the retail operation is a partnership with loss prevention officers. They connect through GroupMe, an invitation-only social media chat room managed by the Grove City police. Participants in the program can share information about a suspect. For example, if someone runs out of Walmart with a lifted television, the store’s loss prevention officers can take a photo of the suspect and their vehicle and provide description information. The police and all the loss prevention officers in the area will get the photo and or information so they can be prepared.
“It really is a force multiplier,” said Olmstead. “It mobilizes and organizes all the loss prevention officers. There is a higher likelihood of the thief getting caught.”
Olmstead said so far there are 65 loss prevention officers that are part of this program.
According to Olmstead, retail theft is a multibillion dollar industry in the United States and no community is safe.
The division of police formed this special operations bureau after seeing the need in the local community.
“Our citizens are paying for this theft,” said Olmstead.
One organization the city is working with to crack down on organized retail crime is the Ohio Regional Organized Crime Coalition (OROCC).
According to Nick Niehaus, president of OROCC, the group is building a chapter in every major city in Ohio to bridge the gap between retailers and law enforcement.
“We are helping law enforcement and retailers in fighting this as much as possible,” said Niehaus.
According to OROCC, organized retail crime includes the theft of multiple products or theft from multiple stores, sometimes in different jurisdictions. Niehaus said the career criminals will then sell the stolen goods to a fencing operation, an organization that buys stolen goods.
The organization also reports that criminals involved in organized retail crime are becoming more violent, putting the safety of retail associates and customers at risk.
“These people are looking to make money quickly,” said Niehaus.
Niehaus said OROCC helps to organize law enforcement blitzes. The Grove City Division of Police held a two-day retail theft blitz earlier this month, which resulted in 14 arrests.
Niehaus applauded Grove City for its efforts and its Retail Operation Program.
“We are always looking for new and improved ways to communicate with law enforcement,” he said.
According to Olmstead, the 14 suspects from the blitz earlier this month, were career heroin users.
“There is a connection between retail theft and narcotics,” said the police sergeant.
From these arrests, law enforcement can gather information about where the stolen goods are going and who is dealing the drugs.
Grove City averages between 500 and 600 retail theft arrests each year. Last year, there were 585 counts of shoplifting in the city.
For additional information on the Retail Operation Program, contact the Grove City Division of Police at 614-277-1795 or visit police.grovecityohio.gov.