By Charlie McKee
On Thursday evening, July 18, 2013, the Silver City Police Department (SCPD) and the newly formed Safety and Security Task Force of downtown Silver City merchants met at the Silco Theater in the first of what is to be a series of educational and brainstorming sessions between the merchants and local law enforcement.
Steve Townley is Co-Chair of the new Task Force with Faye McCalmont, Executive Director of the Mimbres Region Arts Council. The Task Force of downtown merchants was organized under the auspices of the Silver City Arts and Cultural District and Silver City MainStreet. Townley announced that future educational sessions will include a presentation by the District Attorney's office, as well as one on in-store surveillance equipment and techniques. He also announced that the Task Force has established a monthly meeting for the first Monday of the month at 3:30 pm; and the next one is scheduled for August 5, 2013.
Townley then introduced the evening's presenters from SCPD: Captain Javier Hernandez and Detective Pat Castillo. Hernandez explained that the evening's session would focus on shoplifting and white-collar crime in the downtown area, as opposed to armed robbery and other violent crimes. He pointed out to the merchants that the distinction between "shoplifting" and "robbery" is an extremely important one for the merchants to make when reporting a crime, since robbery involves violence while shoplifting does not. The police dispatchers send a very different response team to a violent crime than to a shoplifting incident. Hernandez then turned the presentation over to Castillo, who went on to explain that shoplifting includes more than simply taking an item of merchandise. It also includes switching pricing labels on goods, switching item containers, and embezzlement of goods or money by employees. He also pointed out that shoplifting is one of five "warrantless crimes," which means that a suspect may be arrested on the spot by a law enforcement officer when reported by the merchant.
Castillo urged the downtown business owners to report shoplifting (and any other crimes) immediately. Police have a difficult job gathering evidence and making a case solid enough to go to court unless merchants report the crime immediately. There was considerable discussion among the audience of merchants and the officers regarding the "revolving door" of local criminals who are caught repeatedly by SCPD, even confess to crimes, and yet are back on the street in a matter of hours. One shopowner stated that she was informed by the DA's office that they "do not prosecute shoplifters." Both Castillo and Hernandez emphasized several times that the process of conviction of a suspect requires successful completion of a case by three entities: police, prosecuting attorney, and the sentencing judge. Hernandez and Townley suggested to the merchants that they pose the question of inadequate prosecution and conviction of "revolving door" shoplifting suspects to the DA during the Task Force session scheduled with the DA's office.
Castillo went on to give the merchants tips on how to deter shoplifting:
• Call the police dispatcher immediately upon suspecting a shoplifting incident
• Use in-store surveillance cameras and warning signs about cameras
• Install one-way mirrors
• Participate in Crime Stoppers
• Greet and ask shoppers if you can help by taking items to sales register
• Ask for ID with credit cards and checks
• Report multiple offenders every time to establish a pattern for law enforcement
• Monitor number of items taken in and out of dressing rooms
• Use price tags that cannot be switched
• Discourage groups in the store
• Check packages and backpacks at the door or sales counter
• Take photos of suspects, as well as photos and serial numbers of any valuable merchandise
• Educate employees
Castillo emphasized that the merchant's own safety and that of employees should always be the first concern in considering confrontation of a shoplifting or robbery suspect. He stated that the dollar value of stolen merchandise cannot be compared to loss of life.
Business owners in the audience offered numerous suggestions for deterring ongoing crime in the downtown area. Lori Ford of CATS TV offered to publicize photos of convicted shoplifters on TV. Other suggestions included:
• Merchants can circulate photos of suspects among themselves, as long as they are not violating the rights of a suspect, who is innocent until proven guilty.
• Merchants would like a special "downtown liaison," whom they could contact directly within SCPD when there are ongoing problems.
• SCPD should have patrol officers on foot downtown in uniform, as well as in plain clothes.
Hernandez and Castillo informed the group that SCPD had been very shorthanded, but was now almost at full complement of 39 officers with two new officers starting very soon. They noted that downtown patrols had already begun and anticipated positive change as a result.
Castillo ended the presentation with a discussion of the fraudulent use of checks and the differences between insufficient funds and forgery.