Team shoplifting, lack of prosecution confounds Birch Run police

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BIRCH RUN TOWNSHIP (WJRT) (12/4/2017) - A significant rise in team shoplifting coupled with stores' reluctance to press charges has Birch Run's police chief in a tight spot.

A team of shoplifters flees a Birch Run Premium Outlets store with an armload of jackets worth more than $1,000.

Shoplifting often proliferates during the holiday season, usually with one or two people at a time caught concealing merchandise or trying to leave without paying.

This year, stores in Birch Run Premium Outlets are being hit by well organized teams of shoplifters numbering up to five people.

"Groups of two to five coming into stores and they disperse when they get into the stores, different directions, so clerks inside can't keep track of where they are, what they are doing," Birch Run Police Chief Al Swearengin said.

The teams have a signal to trigger each shoplifter to begin the theft.

"They grab arm loads of clothing, jackets -- any kind of apparel they can -- and run out the door to a car that is usually waiting in the parking lot for them," Swearengin said.

Store clerks and loss prevention employees have no chance of stopping them. Swearengin said Birch Run Premium Outlets stores have reported several of these incidents in recent weeks and the thieves have made off with a lot of merchandise.

In one case, three people stole more than $1,000 worth of jackets.

Store employees have attempted to get license plates for the getaway cars, but they often are covered up or not attached. By the time someone calls 911 and police respond, the thieves are long gone.

To make the situation worse, companies with stores at Birch Run Premium Outlets are becoming more reluctant to prosecute shoplifting cases, Swearengin said.

"They are out to make a profit and they lose profit when they have to pay their people to be in court for a week," he said.

Management for Birch Run Premium Outlets could not be reached for comment on Monday.

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