May 31, 2009
Economy suspected in shoplifting increasesBy Lindsay Whitehurst and Dawn

A 31-year-old woman selected two pairs of shoes worth $100, hid them, and tried to walk out of a West Valley City J.C. Penney.

In a Taylorsville Harmon’s, a 24-year-old man stuffed strawberry milk, vanilla pudding and salmon rolls into his coat and ran before he was caught. At a Wal-Mart there, security cameras caught a woman slipping an electric toothbrush and razors into her purse.

Thefts such as these have driven the number of shoplifting arrests to their highest levels in years in several Utah cities, and police lay at least part of the blame on the recession.

Nationally, a survey by a trade organization representing more than 100,000 stores, shows that a majority of retailers have seen an increase in amateur shoplifting and that done by organized crime during the past four months.

In St. George, police collared 331 shoplifters in 2007, according to statistics kept by the Department of Public Safety. Those numbers continued to rise in 2008, surpassing 400, according to the department.

The numbers seem to be continuing to rise in 2009. A February 2008 to February 2009 comparison shows shoplifting arrests in St. George rose from 24 to 30.

“From what I’m seeing, the economy is forcing people who otherwise might not shoplift to shoplift,” said St. George Police Sgt. James Van Fleet.

Instead of big-ticket items that would fetch a high sale price, more people are stealing necessities such as groceries, said St. George.

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