Shoplifting cases in Steamboat drop by almost 50% in 2020, bucking national trend
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — While shoplifting numbers have increased nationally in 2020, the Steamboat Springs Police Department has seen the opposite. Shoplifting cases in 2020 were almost half of what they were in 2019.
Steamboat Police Chief Cory Christensen said the department received 40 shoplifting reports in 2019 and only 26 in 2020.
While national experts pointed to COVID-19 financial burdens as an explanation for increased shoplifting, law enforcement officials in Routt County said the county’s higher overall affluence, as well as fewer people being in public during COVID-19, could explain Steamboat’s lower rates.
“Shoplifting is a poverty-driven crime, and we don’t have a ton of poverty in Routt County, so we don’t see a ton of it,” said Matt Karzen, district attorney for Colorado’s 14th District, which includes Routt County. “Overall, shoplifting has never been a big problem in Routt County since I’ve been here, because it’s a pretty affluent community.”
Karzen also said much of the shoplifting prosecutors see either comes from younger people with no criminal history “seeking a thrill,” or people experiencing poverty seeking food or other essential products.
Shoplifting cases are prosecuted on a case-by-case basis, Karzen added, with mental health issues often being a factor in someone’s sentencing.
Christensen said he believes stores having restrictions on how many people can enter due to COVID-19 social-distancing guidelines also has contributed to the lower number of shoplifting calls.
“Restricting how many people are in a business probably has an impact,” he said.
While Christensen agreed many of the department’s calls about shoplifting involve suspects in poverty, “you’d be surprised how many shoplifters we see are affluent and can explain why they stole.”
Christensen also attributed Steamboat’s abundance of local, family-owned businesses to the city’s small number of shoplifting calls, as people may feel guilty about stealing from a local business or feel they’re more likely to be caught in a smaller store with fewer customers.
“Some of our reduction is we have these smaller, family-owned businesses where it’s easier for them to keep an eye on things,” he said. “In the course of my career, there are large businesses who don’t take any proactive effort against shoplifting. They just count it as the cost of doing businesses.”
Molly Baker, owner of Deja Vu Boutique, a consignment store in Steamboat, said the store’s shoplifting numbers have stayed about the same in 2020 despite the store taking added security measures.
“It seems to me that people just seem to find a way around those things if they really want to,” she said.
Most people caught shoplifting at Baker’s store have likely shoplifted multiple times before being caught, she added.
“It’s a significant impact once we figure out who it is,” she said, adding the store always contacts law enforcement and asks for the shoplifter to be prosecuted.
Deja Vu receives their clothing from members of the community, which she said should be a deterrent for those thinking about shoplifting.
“Everything is owned by your neighbor, your doctor or your friend; you’re stealing literally from people you know,” she said. “We don’t own any of this; it all belongs to the community.”
Christine Lee, owner of Straightline Outdoor Sports, said shoplifters at her store usually take sunglasses or goggles. As a local business, Lee said she wished shoplifters were more courteous of the work store owners have had to do to keep their businesses alive during COVID-19.
“We work hard, and we’re pretty much in their shoes, and it’s really not nice to take from us,” she said. “We’re all in this community together.”
While Steamboat saw lower reports of shoplifting overall, some stores said they saw an increase, particularly earlier in the year and right as COVID-19 hit Routt County.
“In the beginning of the year, we had higher levels than we’ve had more recently,” said Dennis Freeman, a security employee at Ace Hardware, adding the store’s shoplifting numbers decreased later in the year.
Christensen said his department often sees repeat offenders in shoplifting cases, which several store owners agreed with.
“There are a couple people I’ve had to address it with, and they no longer shop here,” said Sean Backes, Natural Grocers store manager. “We’re not supposed to engage for safety reasons, so if we see someone visually putting something in their pocket, we call the police.”
Most shoplifting cases are charged as misdemeanors, Karzen said, though it depends on the monetary amount of stolen goods and any previous offenses.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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