By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
A shoplifter took $500 in merchandise from the Lander Safeway store at 5 p.m. Nov. 5, getting away in a Jeep Cherokee.
A vehicle matching that description turned up later in Riverton, where hundreds of dollars worth of meat were reported stolen from Smith’s grocery store.
A police chase ensued, and three people were taken into custody on separate charges, including shoplifting.
In that instance, police were able to recover about $200 in meat for Smith’s.
An investigation into meat missing from a Safeway store in Lander, meanwhile, is ongoing.
Holidays Prime For Shoplifters
As crazy as the incident may sound, it’s not necessarily an isolated occurrence.
The shoplifting spree is a symptom of a growing and troubling trend. From Jackson to Cheyenne and all points in between, retailers face more and more shoplifting, particularly when the holidays hit.
Nationwide, retailers report “shrinkage” is costing them big, big bucks.
In its most recent earnings call, Target cited shoplifting as one of the reasons its profit fell by 50% in the third quarter of this year.
Target Chief Growth Officer Christina Hennington reported shoplifting at the big-box retailer has jumped 50% year over year, and has already cost the retailer $400 million in 2022.
Target’s not alone. Many stores are putting more and more items behind plexiglass in attempts to slow these thefts, which ultimately force stores to raise prices to cover losses, adding an edge to what inflation is already doing to the consumer landscape.
Organized Crime Connections
In some communities, shoplifting has become part of organized crime.
In Oregon, for example, KGW-TV in Portland showed video of people wheeling out whole carts of stolen clothes, power tools and other items, which then are fenced online through sites like Facebook Marketplace, or at flea markets.
The problem has not reached quite that level in Wyoming, but it is on the rise in many Cowboy State communities, including Cheyenne.
“Unfortunately, shoplifting and package theft incidents tend to increase during the holiday season,” Alexandra Farkas, Public Information Officer for the Cheyenne Police Department, told Cowboy State Daily. “In the city of Cheyenne, we have seen a recent uptick in larceny cases.
“The CPD received reports of 223 cases in October, compared to 185 over the same period in 2021. The CPD has also seen an increase in shoplifting. Seventy-seven cases were reported in October 2022, compared to 57 cases in 2021.”
Scope Hard To Pin Down
Incoming Laramie County Sheriff Brian Kozak, meanwhile, told Cowboy State Daily that shoplifting has been on the rise for some time.
He recalls helping both the south Cheyenne and north Cheyenne Walmart stores implement measures to reduce shoplifting. The measures included security guards, as well as a police car that volunteers would move to different locations to make thieves think there were officers physically in the store.
It’s hard to know, however, just how expansive the problem is in Wyoming, Kozak said.
“Walmart is a little bit of a different beast because they have a very proactive security detail,” he said. “And when they are fully staffed, our shoplifting numbers of course increase, because they are catching people.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean Walmart has more shoplifting incidences than other stores though. They are just being more proactive about trying to catch thieves.
“If a store is not catching shoplifters, then it’s not reported,” Kozak said. “So, we just don’t know the true numbers. Other than their bottom line — they know when they do their accounting at the end of the month or at the end of the year how much loss they had.
“But I know for a lot of these big-box stores, it’s over $1 million a year.”
Big Hit For Small Stores
Shoplifting is not just hitting large retailers and big-box retailers. Smaller stores are also taking a big hit.
Palace Pharmacy in Lander, for example, estimates the problem is taking from 15% to 20% of its bottom line every month.
“We had a gal, who we finally kind of narrowed her down, who was stealing the guaifenesin and Musinex over the counter just like crazy,” Palace Pharmacy owner Jolene Osbeck told Cowboy State Daily. “We finally got her on camera and got her dialed in. So I just moved all the stuff behind the counter.”
Moving items behind plexiglass, in fact, is a visibly rising trend in a lot of stores, big-box or otherwise.
“It’s getting to the point where I have to have everything locked up,” Osbeck said. “It just makes me so mad. And the other disturbing thing is it’s kids, a lot of younger adolescents, who are steeling.”
While Osbeck hasn’t seen anything that seems like it’s organized crime yet, she has noticed that shoplifting is often a group activity.
“It’s like they’re doing it because they can look cool and phone their friends or whatever,” she said.