Drugs, regional ring behind Target thefts

Jason Hawk | Amherst News-Times Loss prevention personnel at Target are cracking down on thieves that are hitting the Oak Point Road store hard this year, according to Amherst police, who have also increased patrols there.

Thieves have Target in the cross-hairs and drugs are a driving factor, police say.

Amherst police investigated 22 thefts from the Oak Point Road big box last year, but here’s a more disturbing number – to date in 2015, they’ve already responded to 45.

“The arrests we’ve made, talking to the suspects, a lot of them are admitted heroin addicts,” said Lt. Dan Makruski. “When officers search their person or their cars, they’re finding heroin-related paraphernalia.”

Police have routinely discovered syringes and tie-offs used by addicts to inject heroin, he said.

We’re not talking about shoplifters fingering candy bars.

Phone cases, video games, jewelry, razors, clothing, even linens are being pilfered, according to police reports.

Makruski and Lt. Mark Cawthon sat down with the News-Times to detail how thieves are targeting everything and anything that can be returned later for cash, credit, or sold on the street.

That money is often used to buy drugs.

Heroin use isn’t really slowing, police say. In fact, Amherst patrolmen have already rescued one overdosing addict this month using three shots of naloxone.

Drugs are not the only problem. Cawthon said Target stores across the entire region are the victims of an organized theft ring.

He declined to speak to the details of that case, saying only that the ring is not local but has hit stores in Amherst, Elyria, Avon, and Cleveland.

It’s not uncommon for thieves to grab $250 worth of merchandise at a time, he said.

“The criminals are smart, though, or at least they think they are. They don’t want to hit the $1,000 threshold for theft that creates a felony. They stay under that,” Cawthon said.

And Target isn’t the sole business being hit by thieves. The detective bureau has a case pending at Tractor Supply Company this week as well.

But Target is the business that most frequently calls for help, Cawthon said – to the extent that officers recently received a memo from Oberlin Municipal Court judge Thomas Januzzi expressing concern that frequent cases originating at the store are flooding his docket.

Cawthon said he doesn’t want to villainize Target or spend so much time there that other areas of the city are unprotected, but he does want to deter criminals.

“When we have this issue it’s bringing people into our city who are criminals and we don’t want that… It also ties up our manpower in arresting people, booking them, transporting them to the county jail,” he said.

“We want to focus our effort on cleaning up the problem. We want the message out there that when you come to Amherst to steal – specifically at Target – most likely you’re going to get caught,” said Makruski.

Police praised the efforts of eagle-eyed store security, which has increased arrests. Officers have also committed to random walk-throughs to help curb problems.

Enforcement will only go so far. Makruski said the best way to fight thefts is by sending a clear message.

“What we have to do is change that rumor mill, that word of mouth, that Target is not the place to (steal),” he said. “The Amherst police department is a quarter mile away. With all these numerous arrests, it’s more likely that you’re going to be arrested than get away with it.”

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.