ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Seventeen people were arrested earlier this week as part of a special effort by Anchorage Police's Investigative Support Unit and Community Action Policing Team focusing on retail theft.
The Wednesday arrests all happened at the East Anchorage Walmart on Debarr Road during a six-hour effort. The crimes suspects were charged with included Theft IV for consuming food that was not purchased, drug misconduct, trespassing, and vehicle theft.
APD Chief Justin Doll says the department's growth has allowed it to be proactive.
"The department's finally to the point where we have this capacity to do proactive work," Doll said. "We're really starting to push back across the board on some of these emerging crime trends."
Why focus on shoplifting in a city where social media posts about stolen vehicles crop up every day? Doll says shoplifting is connected with a lot of other crimes across Anchorage. "Very few things happen in isolation, so when it comes to retail theft, a lot of those people are illegal narcotics users, they're also involved in stolen vehicles, they're also involved in violent crime," Doll said.
During the sting, undercover officers found a stolen vehicle in the parking lot, and tried to block it in. Police say 37-year-old Jeffery Estrada tried to drive out of the blockade, but once the vehicle was pinned, he too ran through the parking lot, but was arrested and charged with vehicle theft, theft, resisting arrest and reckless endangerment.
Also among those arrested were a 15-year-old with a misdemeanor warrant, who was with his mother, who had previously been trespassed from Walmart for theft. Police say Walmart employees recognized him as a suspect in an earlier theft as well.
"It's not just somebody taking a candy bar without paying for it," Doll said, "It's a significant amount of theft." He said retailers have made it clear to the department that they are losing a lot of money through theft.
Rendy Ripple, 28, and Direll Harris, 30, were charged with resisting arrest, burglary, theft and trespassing for allegedly concealing an air nail gun and leaving the store. Police say when officers tried to stop them, Ripple resisted arrest and ran through the parking lot to escape, but she was caught before she was able to make it out of the parking lot.
Wassillie Johnston, 26, was arrested for shoplifting after officers say he concealed merchandise. Police say he was also found to have three credit cards that belonged to other people, and he was then charged with three counts of theft II and IV.
One man, 34-year-old Brandon Bahr, was charged with Theft IV after police say he ate food inside Walmart that he did not pay for.
Doll said the project was coordinated by the crime suppression unit, and that he hopes it sends a message to potential thieves.
"If you're thinking about going out and stealing stuff from one of these stores in town, I'd ask you to reconsider, because it's very likely that we could be undercover in the parking lot waiting for you," Doll said.