Beware the Next “Joey Diamonds.” Greenwich Police Teach How to Spot Shoplifters

Jaw-dropping stories of audacious shoplifters ranging from to Winona Ryder to ring-swallower “Joey Diamonds,” entertained, but also informed a room full of Greenwich Avenue shopkeepers on Monday night.

Greenwich Detective Mark Solomon gave a talk on preventing retail theft for the Chamber of Commerce at the police station. A room full of jewelry store and high-end clothing store employees learned about trends in counterfeit money, credit, debit and gift cards, as well as what to do during a robbery versus a larceny, the former being differentiated by the thieves’ willingness to use force.

While amateur shoplifters often give themselves away with nervous behavior, professional shoplifters are more difficult to spot. “This is their business. This is their job,” Detective Solomon said. “Like any good person doing a job and trying to get better at it, they try different tactics.”

Many of the shopkeepers in attendance nodded knowingly. One shopkeeper said a customer reported having been shoved out of an area in the store by a shoplifter.

Solomon relayed a story of a group of professional shoplifters whose tactic was to have young children run to the back of the store and steal employee handbags.

“Their tactics are well developed and refined, and they’re more likely to work in groups,” he said of professional shoplifters, adding that often, organized groups use distraction as a tactic. They may drop an item on the floor or fake a seizure.

retail theft prevention

Marcia O’Kane of the Greenwich Chamber of Commerce introduces Detective Mark Solomon at the retail theft prevention workshop. Credit: Leslie Yager

Profiling Shoplifters
As for the word “profile,” Detective Solomon said a successful tactic is to profile the activity rather than the person. “Your job is customer service and to know your customer,” he said. “You’re the ones dealing with people all day long. You’re a better judge of a person there to commit a crime versus going shopping.”

Solomon said there is no typical profile of a shoplifter. “They come in all shapes and sizes,” he said, adding that thieves range in age from as young as four to 90.

Shoplifters Who Pretend to Steal
Solomon recalled a time when he was a patrol officer responding to a shoplifting incident where a $700 shirt was reported stolen after suspects had brought it into the dressing room and left behind an empty hanger. He said he’d pulled over the car with the license plate that matched witness description and suspects that matched the store’s description.

Solomon said he’d run the four suspects’ criminal histories and learned they had shoplifting convictions, and though he said the missing $700 shirt was not located, the suspects were arrested.

“We know sometimes they’ll toss it if police are responding, or hand it off to another criminal or toss it. But we couldn’t find the shirt. Later, they sued the police department,” Solomon said, adding that he was also sued for federal civil rights violations and it took 3-1/2 years to have his name cleared.

Solomon said the suspects knew the employees were watching them, so they took the shirt they were trying on and shoved it inside the sleeve of a suit they were trying on and put it back on the rack. “They knew they were going to get caught. They knew they were going to get pulled over. They had seen the tactic on 60 Minutes where shoplifters can  set up the stores and police and make it look like they are shoplifters when they aren’t,” he said.

Unfortunately, though the truth came out, the store had already settled with the plaintiffs for $75,000. The lesson, according to Solomon, is that it’s important for retailers to have continuous monitoring of activity.

Other suspicious activity of shoplifters, includes walking with short or unnatural steps indicating that the person is concealing shoplifted items or entering a dressing room with merchandise and exiting with none. Detective Solomon said that when a large group of people enter a store at the same time but pretend not to know each other — keeping an eye on each other or possibly texting one another — that is suspicious.

Solomon warned that shoplifters’ eyes are typically in constant motion, looking for clerks and customers.

“They’ll look at the merchandise just long enough to decide whether to steal it,” Solomon said, adding that they may refuse assistance. The best way to handle a suspicious customer who refuses assistance is to continue to offer “good customer service,” particularly to customers who loiter around a certain area, handle many items but make no attempt to buy them.

Shoplifters often carry large or open purses and shopping bags and carry the bags on their arm or shoulder. They may even drop items on the floor as a distraction technique. Solomon said shoplifters often give themselves away by carrying items around the store, or go into out-of-the-way parts of the store. “Be especially attentive if a group comes into a store and then splits up.”

Joey Diamonds
Detective Solomon recalled a memorable shoplifter who swallowed a ring in a jewelry store. He had deliberately made sure the act was not caught on a video surveillance camera before doing so. Solomon used the story to illustrate that surveillance cameras are not a deterrent to professional shoplifters, though they are crucial in identifying suspects.

The ring-swallower, known by Police as “Joey Diamonds,” was notorious in Greenwich around 2008-2009 for his unique way of stealing. He would distract store employees showing him trays of rings.

“He’d take his pinky finger and scoop it and swallow the ring,” Solomon said adding that there was never video of him swallowing the jewelry.

Solomon who received the Dr. John A Clark Award in a ceremony at the Hyatt Regency in Old Greenwich, pointed out that in Connecticut a shoplifter doesn’t have to leave the store to be arrested.

Detective Solomon has been a member of the Connecticut Financial Crimes Task Force (CFCTF) since its inception in January of 2009. The Task force is sponsored by the US Secret Service, a multi-agency entity comprised of numerous federal, state and local investigators whose mission is to investigate financial crimes occurring within the State of Connecticut.

Detective Solomon has played a key role in the success of the CFCTF and has become an important liaison partner for State and Federal Law Enforcement in Connecticut due to his proficiency in financial crimes investigations.

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