Las Vegas Sun

September 19, 2017

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Police face rising Tide of laundry detergent thefts



About half of Metro Police retail arrests last year involved laundry detergent. This booty of Tide, assembled one or two items at a time and kept in a storage unit to be sold at a fraction of the suggested retail price, came from a 2009 bust.

Retail thieves are snatching an increasingly hot item on the black market that’s not located anywhere near the electronics or jewelry sections.

In fact, it’s probably closer to mops and brooms.

The in-demand product: laundry detergent.

Metro Police say the household necessity is fetching between a third and two-thirds of its retail price on the streets, meaning quick cash for thieves and stolen-product peddlers.

“It seems that with every passing year, it just keeps increasing,” said Metro Detective Chris Archer, who works on the department’s Retail Apprehension Prevention Partnership team.

Last year, the RAPP team made about 180 arrests for retail thefts, about half of which involved laundry detergent — Tide, in particular — and beauty items such as deodorant, razors and shampoo, he said.

Police say there are two tiers of offenders: the low-level thieves and the “fences.” The low-level thieves — mostly young men needing to fund a drug habit — steal the items from drugstores, supermarkets and big-box retailers, and sell them to fences, who buy the stolen goods for about a third of their retail price. The fences, in turn, sell the items to consumers for about two-thirds of their retail price.

Laundry detergent is a popular stolen item for this simple reason: “Everybody needs it,” Archer said. “You have to wash clothes.”

The RAPP team formed in March 2013 as a way to combat the rising number of retail thefts, Sgt. William Seifert said. Detectives now routinely work with the Southern Nevada Organized Retail Crime Association, which boasts several hundred members, including retailers and law enforcers, who share information.

An undercover operation led to detectives arresting six people Sept. 20, including several “fences” selling stolen items at Broadacres Marketplace and Event Center, according to arrest reports.

A woman arrested in that operation had paid $71 for Tide liquid detergent bottles that she knew were stolen, the arrest report states. Their actual retail price was $148.

The FBI estimates that organized retail thefts cost the United States about $30 billion a year, which has a trickle-down effect on consumers.

The retailers pass along the cost of thefts by implementing a “hidden tax” and increasing prices, Seifert said. And if stores can’t remain profitable, they close.

“The fence is making a living off our retail community,” Seifert said. “They’re not paying any taxes. They’re not hiring anybody.”

Police say they are conducting reverse buys and stings to nab fences and are working with retailers to catch thieves. The suspects face a variety of charges, including petty larceny, burglary, grand larceny and organized retail theft. The latter three are felonies.

“It’s a constant problem that I don’t really see an end to anytime soon,” Archer said. “It’s going to be a challenge for a long time to come.”

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