In a six-month period, $21,000 of a local supermarket’s alcohol inventory went missing.
In the last three months, $1,000 worth of candy was swiped from the shelves at a local convenience store and last year, Walgreens lost roughly $281 a day in stolen merchandise.
Hard hit retailers filled a conference room to talk with Payson police on how to combat a growing and costly concern — shoplifting.
Not only are thieves taking merchandise, they are also becoming more inventive in their schemes, returning items from other stores and using fraudulent accounts to charge products.
The Mogollon Health Alliance reports it had to mark car seats it gives away free because too many were being returned to Walmart. And a health food store’s owners said personal cleaning products frequently disappear from their shelves. Parolees frequently take the products thinking they will help them test clean on a drug test, but this is not true, said Vita-Mart co-owner BJ Bollier.
According to the Payson Police Department, as the economy stayed weak through 2010, thefts increased in Payson, rising 5.4 percent from 2009.
And more thefts went unreported, with businesses frequently unaware products were missing until taking inventory months later.
At Home Depot, police say thieves frequently charge products to a business account and then return the products, pocketing the money.
One man charged $4,000 worth of wood flooring to an employer’s account and then brought the flooring back for cash. When he was arrested, the man said he needed the money to fund his drug habit, said Payson Police Sgt. Jason Hazelo.
Shoplifters take everything from alcohol, cough syrup, cosmetics, cleaning products to 99-cent candy bars. Shop owners from large and small businesses say they are frustrated.
On Tuesday, the PPD hosted a loss prevention clinic with Rim Country businesses.
“We want to open up the line of communication” between officers and business owners, Hazelo said.
One shop owner jokingly said she was ready to start cutting off fingers she was so frustrated with the thievery.
Before she did that, Hazelo said a few less-painful options could help curb thefts.
He suggested posting anti-shoplifting signs and starting a business watch program with nearby shops.
Police say they see five different types of shoplifting, including altering a price tag, receipt fraud, moving expensive products into a cheaper product’s packaging, concealment and purposely taking merchandise.
At Walmart, shoplifters sometimes transfer an expensive pair of boots to a less expensive box or grab an item, walk out and then walk back in to “return” it.
“At Walmart, drug users love to go in there and steal the dumbest stuff,” Hazelo said. “Then they bring it back for cash.”
At a local supermarket, one woman in a wheelchair stuffed merchandise into reusable shopping bags and drove out. She did this three times before being caught, said Payson Police Sgt. Don Kasl. While some people take products for their personal use, thefts are often connected with drugs.
“Shoplifting is a symptom of something else,” said Payson’s attorney Tim Wright.
Police are seeing an increasing number of teens taking products to huff, like air spray, as well as cough syrups, which they swallow to hallucinate. Other thieves take alcohol to fuel their addiction or take merchandise they can sell, using the cash for drugs.
When Hazelo asked teens why they had stolen, some of the responses he got included, “No one cares,” “Everyone else does it,” “As long as I don’t steal a lot, I’m good” and “I need it for my drugs.”
Shoplifters often work in teams with one person distracting a sales clerk while the other person lifts items.
At a local convenience store, one clerk said large groups of teens come in after school and while one group talks with the clerk, others grab candy or medicine.
Police say they need the help of businesses and residents to curtail shoplifting.
“We need your help reporting this,” Hazelo said.
Even if thieves snag a $6 bottle of cough syrup, report it, he said, because that bottle could be used for drug making and tie into something deeper.
“We want to start hitting these people where it hurts,” he said. “We want to let people know that if they come to Payson, you can’t rip us off and leave town.”
Payson Police Chief Don Engler said the department’s goal is to make shoplifting a hassle for thieves.
“If we make shoplifting difficult, they will go on down the road to somewhere else,” he said. “We have low vehicle thefts because we have made it difficult.”
If a shop owner sees someone hide something in their clothes, they don’t need to wait until they leave the store to stop them, Hazelo said.
“Once they put it in their coat, you can stop them — it is concealment,” he said.
And once someone is stopped, a business owner has the right to reasonably detain him or her until police arrive.
If a shop owner does not want to confront a shoplifter, the best thing they can do is write down their license plate number and direction of travel and call police.
Once a shoplifter is caught, shop owners can ask the person not to return. If they do, they are trespassing. If they are caught shoplifting again from the same store, police can then charge them with two crimes.
Owners should not worry that they will drive business away by banning people, Hazelo said, because only a small percentage of the community is committing these crimes.
Before leaving, retailers said they would attend more meetings like this in the future. Hazelo said they would work on putting together a presentation on creating a drug-free work environment and how to get background information at low cost on new hires.
To contact the PPD about a non-emergency, call (928) 474-5177.