By Seth Daniel
Shoplifting has often been considered a nuisance crime, and though it takes its toll, it has never taken front and center in the priority list for most urban police departments.
But that has been changing for Revere Police as they work on a six-month grant to see just what the best approach is to a crime that accounts for the most calls to police and amounts to a lot of spent resources.
Not only that, it’s a crime these days that is symptomatic of bigger issues, and in Revere, has led to the uncovering of at least two major state cases for prostitution and drugs.
Lt. John Goodwin said the department is three months into the six-month grant, and are monitoring stores such as Target, Stop & Shop, Walgreen’s, Rite Aid, Burlington Coat Factory, Marshall’s and others.
“Our shoplifting numbers from the last several years have been really going up sharply to a point where it has become one of our most prevalent calls for service in the city,” said Lt. Goodwin. “We had a meeting last fall with several retailers…Prior to starting this, we also interviewed a couple of professional ‘boosters’ about what was going on. Word on the street was Revere was the place because no one gets arrested; they only get summonsed. We decided we had to reverse that. We might be contributing to the problem.”
What had happened was that Revere had instituted a policy of issuing summonses rather than arrests for many shoplifting incidents. Those summons require that the suspect appear in court for a Clerk Magistrate’s hearing. Unfortunately, though, Goodwin said the cases were getting sent over to the court, but nothing was happening. So, in Revere, many of those caught were basically getting away with a lot of shoplifting.
And it was bringing in a bad crowd.
Already, one routine shoplifting arrest at Target in Revere – via the grant program – has helped to uncover a major alleged drug and prostitution/human trafficking ring in East Boston.
Two newer officers on the Department were monitoring the store as part of the grant when a shoplifter was caught. However, the items she and her friend were stealing didn’t seem quite right to the officers. Some additional questions revealed that there was more going on.
Soon, a major human trafficking case with the state Attorney General’s Office had come about.
“We believe it becomes a force multiplier,” said Goodwin. “It’s a lot like the broken windows theory of policing. You take care of the little things and the big things come along.”
In all, though, the shoplifting grant is a bit of an experiment.
Goodwin said they don’t know if making more arrests will reverse the trend, but they’re going to monitor the progress with an open mind and, six months after the grant concludes, take a close look at what has happened.
Already, Goodwin said the numbers are going down, and they have some encouraging signs in the last few weeks that their theory of more arrests might be working..
“The large majority of people committing shoplifting have addiction problems and we’ve already interceded many times,” he said. “If Joe has an addiction and he’s feeding the addiction by shoplifting, and we don’t arrest him, maybe we’re just letting the problem continue. Sometimes you have to bust them to help them. We want to see if a preferred arrest response makes a difference. We hear that 99 out of 100 times the only punishment is the arrest itself.”