WINTER HAVEN, Fla. — Florida prosecutors, law enforcement leaders and retailers are joining forces to prevent retail crimes – including the flash-mob robberies which have recently been reported elsewhere in other states like California.
State Attorney General Ashley Moody joined Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd Thursday at the Polk County Sheriff’s Office in Winter Haven, where they spoke about how authorities are developing a statewide task force and database to cut down on organized retail theft.
The duo was surrounded by prominent leaders, including St. Pete Police Chief Anthony Holloway and Florida Retail Federation President and CEO Scott Shalley.
Representatives from stores like Walmart, Lowe’s and Publix stood with them.
“While many other states have gone lenient on property crimes, Florida has not,” AG Moody told reporters.
Moody said the goal of the task force was not to investigate small-scale shoplifting incidents. It is about targeting sophisticated, large-scale organized crime operations that infiltrate numerous stores to steal and sell stolen merchandise.
Chief Holloway said the task force would help streamline communication across the state to find and prosecute people involved in these organized groups.
According to Shalley, retail crime affects millions of Floridians and their neighbors. One in five people in the state works a retail job, he explained.
Tyson Roberts, who works on the asset protections investigation team at Home Depot, thanked Florida prosecutors and first responders for taking swift action.
“These rings are formed up of criminal enterprises that go beyond petty shoplifting,” Roberts explained. “They’re professional thieves running a business, stealing merchandise from our retailers and our communities.”
Roberts said online shopping has made it increasingly easy for criminals to resell the stolen merchandise via the Internet. In many cases, prosecutors say juveniles are recruited to help steal the merchandise from brick and mortar stores because the people running the criminal enterprises believe young people are less likely to be held accountable.
“These criminal networks hide in plain sight,” Roberts said. “They’re able to do business anonymously on online platforms. Taskforces...[are] necessary to have the resources to combat this growing problem and to bring coordination to all of our efforts.”
Nationwide, Moody said 70 percent of stores had reported an increase in crime. She said she’s seen reports of major thefts in places “where criminals know they won't be held accountable for property crimes." Moody said she’s not going to let Florida become one of those places.
For example, Moody vowed Florida would “never” become “California.”
According to the attorney general, “connecting the cases is key” because if these crimes continue, consumers will pay more for products this holiday season and beyond.
For his part, Judd called Moody “a visionary,” adding that crime in Florida was at a 50-year low.
“If you want to steal, just go to California…because you’re not gonna do it here,” Judd said. “…You’ll spend Christmas, not with Santa Claus but with Santa Judd at the county jail. That’s a guarantee.” Judd said criminals would not “overrun Florida.”