Retail theft is a growing problem across the country with professional shoplifting rings making a staggering $32 billion annually, but St. Paul police have a new plan to stop crooks from cashing in.
The state's Capitol city sees about 1,500 shoplifting cases a year, and over half involve organized shoplifting rings. As many as 98 percent of stores within the city's borders say they've been a victim of the theft rings, and now, the St. Paul Police Department is starting up a new unit to help put a stop to it.
For most people, a trip to the store for every day essentials is a weekly chore -- but the dirty work of a few thieves has shoppers paying the price in more ways than one.
"It's very easy for a booster to come in and grab three or four of these fragrances, throw them in a purse or bag, and they are gone in a matter of moments," explained Sgt. Charlie Anderson, who heads the new unit aimed at stopping organized shoplifting rings.
According to Anderson, professional shoplifters -- or "boosters," as they are called -- steal specific items like razors, perfume and laundry detergent.
"Tide laundry detergent is referred to as 'liquid gold,'" he said.
The thieves sell the stolen goods to mom-and-pop stores that fence them or to wholesalers that repackage the merchandise and sell it -- in many cases, back to the very store it was stolen from.
"The unit would try to identify boosters and their rings and work with them to identify fencing operations and take them down as well," Anderson told FOX 9 News.
As an example, Randy Sterling has been arrested more than 80 times for shoplifting in St. Paul alone. Last month, he was sentenced to 17 months in prison after stealing several containers of Tide from the Dollar Store on University Avenue.
The new unit would train officers to recognize signs of professional shoplifting activities to separate them from crimes of desperation in the hopes of catching the chronic offenders who commit the vast majority of thefts.
"This is not the mom stealing formula for her baby," St. Paul City Attorney Sara Grewing said. "This is the person stealing formula to sell to a fencer, and retailers and the public are the victims."
Retailers recoup the cost of their lost merchandise by raising costs for customers, meaning everyone picks up the tab. In fact, police say some stolen products -- including baby formula -- can even become a threat to public safety because they must be stored at a certain temperature and could sicken children if the expiration dates are removed.
The organized retail crimes unit is expected to start up next month.