Three years ago, the Grove City Division of Police created a special operations bureau to address the issue of shoplifting from the city's major retailers.

"It's an ongoing relationship and effort we've built with the loss-prevention officers at our stores," said police Sgt. Doug Olmstead, one of five officers in the special operations bureau.

"The collaboration really is helpful because the stores can let us know what we can do to help them, and we can let them know what they can do to help us," he said.

The effort occasionally is supplemented by enhanced retail-theft enforcement efforts, in which the stores increase the number of security personnel and the police department assigns more officers to monitor activity at the businesses.

"We'll do this two to six times a year, depending on the need we see," Olmstead said. "It's sort of an 'all hands on deck' kind of thing.

The Stringtown Road and Buckeye Parkway area, with its proliferation of such big-box stores as Target, Best Buy, Kohl's and Kroger, is the focus of the effort, but the bureau also works with stores in other areas of the city.

The most recent enhanced theft-enforcement effort took place Aug. 8 and 9 and resulted in 14 arrests for theft. Other charges filed included possession of drug-abuse instruments and paraphernalia, driving without a valid license and one arrest on a felony warrant.

"It's kind of a neighborhood watch program for retail," said Bill Vedra, deputy city administrator and safety director. "Just like in a residential subdivision, in our retail districts, the more people who are keeping an eye out for suspicious behavior, the more that helps us do our job."

The police department has set up an app that store employees can use to communicate with law enforcement and with each other, Olmstead said.

For example, on Aug. 9, an area store's employees sent out a photo of a vehicle whose occupants were believed to have been involved in a theft that had just taken place.

"In the past, those people could have just gone to the next store and committed another theft," Olmstead said. "Now other stores can be on the lookout for that vehicle and the occupants."

On the second day of the recent enhanced operation, more than 60 employees at area stores were communicating through the app, he said.

Grove City is one of the leading law-enforcement agencies in the state for addressing retail crime, said Nick Neihaus, president of the Ohio Regional Organized Crime Coalition.

"When a law-enforcement agency like Grove City creates a special bureau to focus on retail crime, retailers and businesses are more apt to communicate with law enforcement and report the crimes at their stores," he said. "That can only help in catching more of the bad guys."

The coalition was formed in 2012 to help facilitate a partnership between law enforcement and retail stores throughout Ohio.

"We have chapters in all the major cities including Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dayton, Toledo and Akron -- the places where there are a lot of retail stores and a lot of retail crime," Neihaus said.

"We have a website that allows OROCC members to share information with each other, including photos and videos of suspects."

Stores used to be more hesitant to report shoplifting crimes, Olmstead said.

"They thought they would be bothering us by reporting those crimes," he said.

The department has worked with local stores to provide training to help loss-prevention officers understand when they should report a crime and what kind of information police are looking for, Olmstead said. Retailers also can file a theft report online.

"It makes it a lot more efficient," he said. "Patrol officers don't have to take time off the street to take a report."

The growing partnership between Grove City police and its retail stores has led to success, Olmstead said.

"On average, our retailers in Grove City report between 500 and 600 shoplifting incidents a year," he said. "Because of the information they provide us and the collaboration with the loss-prevention officers, about 70 to 80 percent of those cases result in charges being filed.

"That kind of success wouldn't be able to happen without the partnership we've formed with our businesses," Olmstead said.

"It's being noticed," he said. "Big-box retailers in other communities are contacting their local law-enforcement agencies and asking them whether they could do something similar."

Agencies from around the state and other states also have contacted Grove City to learn more about the local partnership with retail stores, Olmstead said.

It's not just retailers who are benefiting from the special operation bureau's efforts, he said.

"The whole community is benefiting," he said. "When we are able to catch people and return the items they've shoplifted, that store doesn't have pass on the cost of lost merchandise to its customers."

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