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Pataskala police looking for theft suspect as retail crime climbs

PATASKALA, Ohio (WCMH) - Retail theft accounts for billions of dollars in losses every year for retailers across the country. The retail theft boom has been seen in central Ohio as well.

Pataskala police are looking for two men who stole two Milwaukee brand drills from Napa Auto Parts and Hardware store on Feb. 2. Security footage shows one man with a distinct neck tattoo go into the store in the afternoon, walk around for less than two minutes, then grab two drills and walk out.

"Walks in and how casually he did it makes me believe this isn't his first time," said Sgt. Michael Reitz with Pataskala Police Department.

Another man was waiting in a vehicle to drive away as soon as the man came out of the store. But it was all caught on camera, which helps officers.

"Good surveillance cameras helps us. In this particular case we have great surveillance footage. It's clear. Grainy out of date cameras, it really doesn't do us much good if we can't pick out the facial features of a suspect," Reitz said.

Reitz had suggestions for those who may witness a theft.

"First call us, get the police on the way,” Reitz said. “Try to get a direction of travel and make and model of the vehicle and license plate would be great." 

Pataskala Police are asking for the public's help identifying the young man walking out of the hardware store with the drills. They say the only way they can make an arrest is if they have good, clear, surveillance footage of a suspect.

Reitz said retail theft is just one of the issues turning up more often for police. 

"Young adults are trying door handles and they come across a firearm and now we have kids on the street with firearms, which is a huge problem," he said.

What once was a small issue is now requiring more work for officers, and putting the public in more danger with guns on the streets when they aren't properly stored. 

"We probably got maybe one gun a month off the streets. Now, we have one, two, three guns a week we're seeing getting off the streets," Reitz said.

In Franklin County, Sgt. Bill Duffer has been working for the Franklin County Sheriff's Office for 30 years. 

"Probably over the last three years or so we've seen about a 10% in retail thefts in Franklin County,” he said.

Duffer called the uptick a "significant" amount. Duffer has seen all types of retail theft. He said thieves no longer use the traditional shoplifting technique of concealing items. 

"People will walk in, take a cart, load it up, sometimes with big ticket items and then just leave the store. Walk past all points of sale right out the door. And there's really nothing at the store to stop them," Duffer said.

Once items are stolen, he said often they're sold online or at pawn shops. He said there is a database for law enforcement and pawn shop owners to track exactly who is selling what items which can sometimes help kickstart an investigation.

However, he said the new trend of "smash and grab" thefts are hard to police. 

"They're emboldened, they're brazen. They know that in the end not much is going to happen to them, and they're probably going to make it out of the store with the stuff to begin with,” Duffer said.

Duffer also mentioned that the penalty for retail theft isn't enough to deter thieves from doing it. 

"The way the criminal justice system is set up, you know someone's apprehended for a theft and you know basically it's a slap on the wrist and they're back out. So, there's not really much deterrent out there to stop retail thieves from stealing from stores. There's really not. Unfortunately, it's a minor charge that they end up with and they're back out on the street in no time," Duffer said.

So, what can be done about the penalty? 

"That would be more of a legislative issue perhaps to strengthen the penalties for committing a theft offense," Duffer said.

When it comes to deterring retail theft from a store's perspective, Duffer said oftentimes employees are trained to not intervene with a potential theft.

"They discourage, and rightfully so, they discourage their employees from attempting to stop thefts...you don't want to get someone hurt over store property. They discourage that. Thieves know that," he said. 

Thieves also know exactly how much the items they steal are worth and stay under a certain amount to avoid a felony. 

"Trust me, thieves know that if I'm under a thousand it's not a felony," Duffer said. 

Policing and investigating crimes that don't turn up heavy penalties can also require lots of resources for law enforcement.

"Definitely retail theft can be a drain on law enforcement resources,” Duffer said. “These sorts of things are going to pull officers, deputies away from other duties, from patrol duties and can tie them up for long periods of time.”


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