12/12/05 — Holidays bringing more theft in county

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Holidays bringing more theft in county

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on December 12, 2005 1:52 PM

As Wayne County citizens are rushing to buy Christmas and holiday presents and spreading good will, another group is also getting gifts -- but without paying for them.

December is a busy month for shoplifters and thieves prowling the stores and parking lots, law enforcement officers say. Shoppers should be cautious while they are looking for gifts.

Sheriff Carey Winders said the number of thefts reported to his office has risen in the past few weeks. And thieves seem to have gotten more brazen, Winders said. The sheriff said last week a man tried to walk off with a bottle of wine right in front of him while he was shopping at a large retail store. Winders confronted the man and told him that he had better get back in line and pay for the wine. The man started to complain, but Winders said he cut him off short, and he paid up.

Police Maj. M.D. Hopper agreed that thefts from both businesses and individuals have increased significantly. Hopper said he expects more than 40 shoplifting and 60 larceny cases to be investigated in the city this month alone. Only the summer months see more stealing, he said.

Hopper said more stores have installed sophisticated surveillance systems, especially digital cameras. He said most stores have good loss-prevention officers who are doing a good job in preventing thefts and catching suspects.

Sheriff's Capt. George Raecher said he expects break-ins, larcenies and shoplifting to increase during the days leading up to Christmas. He said detectives in his office are already working on two major cases -- the thefts of $7,500 from the American Legion hall and $12,800 from the Family Dollar store in Mar Mac.

Hopper said police have increased surveillance in shopping centers and Berkeley Mall. If a thief cannot find what he wants inside, he often turns his attention to vehicles in the parking lot, Hopper said. He and Winders both urged shoppers to place valuables out of sight whenever possible.

A week ago, police caught a thief with so much property, "We had to take a Blazer to load it up," Hopper said. The property filled six tables in the squad room. Among the stolen items were four place settings from a restaurant chain.

The cost to businesses from thefts can be heavy, Hopper said. And the costs are passed on to consumers.

"Shoplifting drives up the prices for everybody," Hopper said.

While the number of thefts overall is increasing, Hopper said, one type has at least leveled off. The number of people stealing gasoline by driving off without paying increased when pump prices shot up. As gas prices dropped, the number of drive-offs reported decreased.