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WATCH: Undercover shoplifting sting fights off retail theft in Delray Beach

Posted at 8:00 PM, Dec 21, 2018

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. — “She’s running!” a Home Depot store employee shouts across the crisp air. It’s Wednesday afternoon, and a woman had just thrown cash in the employee’s face, before taking off. Body camera video would later show the woman threw the cash and started running, because she had just spotted a Delray Beach police officer.

“Where do you think you’re going,” an DBPD officer yells out. “What’s wrong with you? Why would you try to do something so silly?”

Turns out, undercover officers had been watching the woman for the last half hour, and this was about to be the fourth arrest made in four hours, as part of an ongoing shoplifting sting.

Retail theft costs businesses around the country $50 billion a year, according to the National Retail Federation. They estimate more than a third of those thefts come from shoplifters.

Delray Beach isn’t immune. After DBPD saw retail thefts going up at shopping centers in their area, they decided to put together an Undercover Retail Theft Operation.

“We started seeing crime trends at these larger retailing outlets,” said Sgt. Michael Debree, who leads the team. “You get a quick arrest out of it. It does not tie up too many resources, and it has got a great outcome.”

It depends on corporate policy, but loss prevention officers are usually not allowed to put their hands on a shoplifter. If someone is caught stealing, by the time the cops get there, the suspect is usually gone.

So Debree and his team decided to change that. With the help of surveillance video, a loss prevention team inside the store, and their own undercover guys, Debree estimates they have made about 25 arrests in three months. Shoplifters are charged with an array of different crimes (depending on the circumstances), including criminal mischief, grand theft and organized scheme to defraud.

“We have caught people from Orlando, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and Palm Beach County,” said Debree.

During our ride along with the unit, Contact 5 learned each shoplifter has their gimmick. One man tried to conceal items in his pants. One woman allegedly scanned every other item at checkout, and only paid for half of the things in her cart. Another guy cut off a display drill with wire cutters, before running out of the store.

The biggest bust of all went to the woman at the beginning of our story, the one caught running from police.

Cops say the woman had a plan: find cash receipts in the parking lot, then find the same items inside the store and try to return them for cash or gift card.

As officers emptied her purse, they found receipts from Pompano Beach to Palm Beach Gardens. “She has got her own little scheme here,” said Debree.

Any Delray Beach business can participate in this undercover program. Contact the agency for more info.