Whitehall and Reynoldsburg police are continuing a collaborative operation aimed at deterring theft at four Whitehall retail centers.

"The primary goal is to reduce retail theft," said Whitehall Sgt. Dan Kelso -- but the operation also has uncovered related crimes, he added.

More than 20 officers and support staff from both departments conducted a retail-theft blitz from 2 to 10 p.m. Dec. 2 at three Whitehall locations: Great Eastern Shopping Center near South Hamilton Road and East Main Street; Town and Country Shopping Center on East Broad Street; and Walmart, 3657 E. Main St.

While focused on shoplifting within retail stores, the blitz also included surveillance for the theft of property from parked vehicles and any other suspicious activity, Kelso said.

The Dec. 2 blitz was the fourth blitz this year, following similar efforts March 29, April 27 and Sept. 28.

The previous blitzes were held at the same locations, with some including the Target store on East Broad Street.

Whitehall police have assisted Reynoldsburg police with similar blitzes at Reynoldsburg retail stores this year.

During each operation, officers work with loss-prevention and asset-protection staff inside the stores who identify suspects. Undercover officers also observe parking lots for suspicious activity, Kelso said.

The latest operation produced 14 arrests and the filing of 22 charges, including theft, possession of drugs, obstructing official business and complicity to theft.

One man accused of shoplifting allegedly was in possession of three baggies of crack cocaine, hidden in various locations on his body.

Another man was caught when a short pursuit ended in front of his residence. Officers stopped a vehicle that left the scene of a reported theft and recognized a man standing on the porch of a residence in the 900 block of Bernhard Road, reports said.

The man was wanted on warrants through the adult parole authority, according to reports. A police dog found the man inside the residence.

This year's blitzes -- which overall have yielded 55 arrests -- have resulted in a significant increase in the number of theft-related arrests, Kelso said, while the number of arrests for robberies and burglaries has decreased.

The number of arrests for theft from January through November this year is up 55 percent compared to the number of arrests for theft during the same 11 months in 2016.

Meanwhile, for the same periods, arrests for robberies are down 16 percent and those for burglary are down 35 percent, Kelso said.

"These retail blitzes are a strategy in our three-year plan," police Chief Mike Crispen said, adding they're designed not only to nab shoplifters but to stamp out related crimes as well.

"Our message is that we take shoplifting seriously, and where you find shoplifting, you often find other crimes," Crispen said.

"Our overarching message," he said, "is that the risk will outweigh the reward if you come to Whitehall to steal from our businesses."

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo