Retailers and authorities develop tool to cut down on retail crime rings

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

PHOENIX -- Phoenix now ranks tenth in the nation as a target for organized retail crime gangs. Authorities hope a new online tool will help combat the growing trend.

Organized retail crime costs the retail industry between $15 billion and $30 billion annually according to the National Retail Federation.

"Organized retail crime not only drives up the costs of goods and services for consumers, it deprives retailers of revenue that would otherwise allow them to expand and add jobs and deprives municipalities of tax receipts that would otherwise fund essential services,” County Attorney Bill Montgomery said.

Montgomery said often the thieves use the profits from reselling stolen goods to fund other criminal activities. He added that the individuals involved are growing more violent, often threatening, or in some cases assaulting store employees.

Now Arizona enforcement agencies are teaming up with 250 local retailers to share information about retail crime as it happens.

A secure website developed by the Arizona Organized Crime Alliance allows store employees who spot criminal activity in their stores to immediately upload details, images and surveillance video. Police are instantly alerted, and so are other retailers in the area.

Montgomery says often the retail crime gang members hit multiple stores in one day, and getting the information out to surrounding stores can help those other retailers be on the look out for the suspects.

"It's priceless for us in retail," said Rob Peterson, Target's investigations team leader for Arizona and New Mexico. "Now we get that information in our hands immediately."

Previously members of AZORCA shared information about organized crime at monthly meetings.

Peterson admitted the tool is not a "silver bullet," because often the suspected thieves do get away, but he says it is definitely a step in the right direction.

Montgomery said ultimately collecting the information will help law enforcement build stronger cases.

"This is also a warning to those involved in organized retail theft, your chances of success have diminished immeasurably," Montgomery said.

The website is free for retailers.