A Knox County Sheriff’s Office task force trying to prevent retail crime is in service year-round, but during the holiday season, the group more than triples in size.
The reason for the holiday season focus: More shoppers are out and can be vulnerable, according to Knox County Sheriff Tom Spangler.
“It’s become a season to where people are vulnerable because it’s so easily accessible, for people who want to commit a crime. That’s what we want to deter – we want to make it harder for them to do that,” said Spangler.
KCSO’s Organized Retail Crime Holiday Task Force consists of 20 KCSO deputies working in four areas of the county: East, West, North, and South.
Their holiday work begins the week of Thanksgiving, but even before that, deputies meet with retailers in their assigned area of the county to make introductions and explain a plan.
“We’re catching your [average] shoplifter, but we’re also catching the professional criminal that does this for a living,” said an undercover KCSO detective.
Some detectives work undercover, blending in with other shoppers while also keeping close watch for any suspicious activity.
This task force doesn’t operate alone. In fact, detectives say they rely on retail employees, Loss Prevention teams, and shoppers for tips that could lead to catching illegal activity.
“Last year statewide, 22 million dollars of sales tax. of the 9.25 percent, seven percent comes back to the county. If you’re losing a lot of merchandise, we’re not getting anything for the sales tax. We’re losing out on a lot of money of people stealing from these stores,” said Brad Hall, KCSO Acting Chief of the Detective Division.
Retail crime prevention by the numbers
In four days, since the task force began holiday work, KCSO reports there have been 66 arrests. Some of those involving thousands of dollars of merchandise.
Suspects range from juveniles, to local shoplifters, to out-of-town organized crime units working in connection with two or more people.
“We love having the tourism and the business, but it also brings crime with them,” said the undercover KCDO detective.
Detectives recovered nearly .40 grams of meth from individuals arrested in the first four days. One telling WATE 6 On Your Side there hasn’t been as much heroin found as in years past, attributing it to the narcotics work in the area.
In total, $25,000 of merchandise has been recovered in less than a week, according to Sheriff Spangler.
KCSO deputy work
Sheriff Spangler attributes the success of the program to the work of KCSO deputies within the taskforce, and beyond.
“I want them [the public] to know that we’re out there for their safety. Please, come up to our men and women, even the ones in uniform and thank them for what they’re doing…” said Spangler.
Spangler says there is work the public sees, deputies in uniform, but also work that isn’t because deputies are undercover.