Police cracking down on 'professional' shoplifters with 'Operation Blitz'

- For many, Black Friday means the start of the holiday shopping season, but it's also a busy time for shoplifters as well.

More than 30 metro-area law enforcement agencies are taking part in Operation Blitz. It aims to crack down on so-called professional shoplifters or boosters, who use the profits from stolen goods to fund more serious crimes.

“The unified effort is very beneficial. We have jurisdiction in Eagan, but the criminals don't, they're all over the metro,” said Officer Aaron Machtemes, spokesman for the Eagan Police Department. “When we can share information, especially, images and trends that we're seeing, it helps better combat these professional shoplifters.”

Uniformed and plain-clothed officers will be stationed in major retail areas to be on the lookout for signs of professional shoplifting. Those signs include bags that have been lined with foil to evade detection.

“And what this foil does is help defeat the theft sensors in the store,” Machtemes said. “So when we see people use items like this we know they're doing this as almost a career.”

The profits from stolen goods are often used to fund other, more serious crimes like gang activity and human trafficking.

“Typically, if someone is involved in human trafficking, they’re sending them out to steal and also shoplift to help fund to continue their operation,” Machtemes said. “That's why it's so important to take such a stance on these habitual shoplifters because it's really funding terrible crimes across the metro and this is just one way to stop that.”

Operation Blitz also involves partnerships with retailers’ own asset protection investigators. Retailers welcome any help they can get in combating shoplifting, which can eat into their profits.

“We can't do it alone. Without their partnership, there would definitely be a lot more theft,” said Laura Vestle, executive team lead at the Eagan Target.

Vestle said thieves often target high-end clothing, laundry detergent and baby formula, all of which are valuable on the black market.

Shoppers can do their part, during this busy time of year, by notifying store staff if they see anything suspicious.

Law enforcement will also be on the lookout for signs of identity theft and financial fraud crimes. Operation Blitz will run throughout the holiday shopping season.

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