Two years ago, Shelby County, Tn., Sheriff’s Department Det. Steve Montgomery came to the realization that shoplifters, considered minor criminals, are often connected to well-organized theft, fencing, counterfeiting and drug organizations, reports the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Memphis’s sticky-finger habit is so bad that one chain considered closing 40 stores in Memphis.
Last January, police and merchants formed ALERT (Area Law Enforcement Retail Team) to track and prosecute theft rings. Said Scott Brown, loss-prevention director for 290 Family Dollar stores, including 40 in Memphis, “We have used ALERT in a number of cases with positive results, particularly with dishonest employees.” The arrangement has netted several large busts of criminal organizations with national and even international links. Shoplifting and counterfeiting rings frequently work together. And much of the counterfeit designer clothing that shows up in flea markets and stores is made in sweatshops as far away as New York or Asia. The most difficult thing about setting up ALERT, Montgomery said, was getting large retailers and police to share information. In the past, officers often gave shoplifters a misdemeanor citation and turned them loose, free to steal at the next store. Now — under threat of prosecution — shoplifters often give up their fence, who sometimes discloses his associations.