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Too easy on shoplifting?

Kaye Ferry

I’m doing a follow-up on a previous column because I had a call from the Vail Police Department stating that I didn’t have enough information when I wrote about it before. I did, but if they want more, here goes.I did a little more digging on this subject that was the main topic of the July 14 Vail Chamber and Business Association meeting and my July 22 column. The truth be told, someone (hint, hint) should do a full-blown story. I’m just a weekly columnist.Seems it’s not so complicated, after all. Historically, there’s been a system in place for dealing with out of state offenders. It’s all handled by mail if they plead guilty. Not guilty? A pretrial can also be done long distance. Then if it’s necessary, a trial date can be set over the phone. Of course, if a trial is the final part of the process, a return trip is necessary. And if they’re a no-show for the trial, a “failure to appear” will be noted and a bench warrant will be issued. Not a good option.So there is a procedure in place that has been followed for years. But writing “summons and complaint” for shoplifting doesn’t seem to be a priority for this current Vail Police Department. You might wonder how I arrived as this conclusion. I did some research.I checked with the Vail courts, and the results aren’t scientific, but good enough to prove the point. Shoplifting is larceny and for the court’s purposes, statistically recorded along with all other larcenies, so they really couldn’t pull out shoplifting specifically. But it’s a small office and the people have all been there for a long time so their sense of daily activities is pretty reliable. I asked how many shoplifting cases the town of Vail prosecutes in a year. Not a lot, was the answer; can’t remember the last one.Then I called the Vail Police Department. Their records are more specific. I got a total for a year running from June 1, 2003, to May 31, 2004. They recorded 10 incidents: nine adult, one juvenile. And just to give you a frame of reference, the town has 32 sworn officers. I mention sworn officers, as those are the guys who can write the tickets, as opposed to total of 62 employees of the Police Department (which includes clerical, code enforcement, etc.). Also, the town has issued 577 business licenses this year.So then I called Avon. A little different story. In the same time frame with 15 sworn officers and 250 licensed businesses, the little metropolis to the west reported 41 incidents: 32 adult and nine juvenile. An interesting side fact is that roughly half of that number is generated by the Village at Avon – aka, the box stores. And even more interesting is that once charged with shoplifting in those stores, you are not allowed to shop in them again. It’s written into the complaint.Now I was intrigued. So I dialed the Breckenridge Police Department: 23 sworn officers, 561 business licenses, 19 incidents: 17 adult, two juvenile.I suppose I could have kept going, but somehow I started to get a sense, unscientific as it might be, of this shoplifting thing. Two surrounding communities with fewer officers and fewer businesses – one with twice as many incidents, and the other four times as many. Why is that? According to one authority, it’s because Breck and Avon essentially have zero tolerance policies as regards to shoplifting. With very rare exception, it’s get caught, get cited. So the question becomes is it any wonder that this crime appears to be on the increase in Vail? And I use the word “appears” because how would we know? If we don’t actively address the problem, the offense never turns up in the records, so we can only go by the word on the street. And that word is shoplifting is on the rise and not enough is being done about it. Here’s one story: An officer was called to the scene of a shoplifting incident. The perpetrator admitted taking the merchandise, had it in her possession and confessed to other similar incidents in town. The officer told the store manager that it’s a lot of paperwork to prosecute an out-of-town offender. And besides, none of the other stores that have been ripped off were prosecuting.Never mind that the store in question has a sign in their window stating “shoplifters will be prosecuted.” Never mind that the girl and her friends were laughing throughout. Never mind that spectators witnessed the incident and afterward expressed outrage at the way it was handled. And apparently never mind the message that was sent to the giggling girls or the other customers. But the point is the Vail merchants need the cooperation and protection of the Vail Police Department. And business owners shouldn’t feel intimidated when making the decision of whether to prosecute. They should be given clear objective choices by the Police Department, not subjective editorials. And the quantity of paperwork required shouldn’t even enter into the conversation. It would seem to me, with the recent surge, the very last thing we need is to be known as the place where stealing is fair game because nobody will do anything about it. The business community is concerned and the support of the police department is absolutely necessary. If you’ve had a problem that has not been addressed to your satisfaction, you need to make it public so that we bring this issue to a conclusion that protects us all.So, as Paul Harvey used to say, “Now you have the rest of the story.”IT’S STARTED: Last week Aspen announced a $74 one-day lift ticket price for the 2004-05 season. Do your part: call them and write them. To contact the Town Council, call 479-1860, ext. 8, or e-mail towncouncil@vailgov.com. To contact Vail Resorts, call 476-5601 or e-mail vailinfo@vailresorts.com. For past columns, vaildaily.com-columnists or search:ferry. Kaye Ferry is a longtime observer of Vail government. She writes a weekly column for the Daily. Vail, Colorado.


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