About 300 law-enforcement officers and retail leaders met yesterday to better coordinate efforts to combat organized retail crime, which results in an estimated $30 billion in losses nationwide every year.

The Ohio Regional Organized Crime Coalition held its second-annual symposium, featuring presentations from prosecutors, retail-loss-prevention professionals and police.

“Many people view shoplifting as simply a nuisance, but it has become very organized,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said. The goal of the symposium, which was held at the James G. Jackson Columbus Police Academy, was to improve communication among retailers and between retailers and law enforcement. Chains such as Cabela’s, Home Depot, Kroger and Wal-Mart Stores sponsored the event.

For criminals, “this is an all-day, every-day business,” said Steve Shepard, president of the coalition. “But they haven’t learned anything. They’re still getting caught.” Retail crime leads to higher prices for customers because companies must offset the cost of the lost merchandise, said Lt. Robert Strausbaugh, who supervises the Columbus Police Division’s burglary unit and is vice chairman of the coalition.

In addition, “lost sales-tax revenue in Ohio is more than $30 million a year,” DeWine said.

Strausbaugh described an organized shoplifting operation: Someone loads a few big-ticket items, such as TVs, into a store cart, scoots out an emergency exit and loads the goods into a waiting car. The criminals sell the stolen items at flea markets or secondhand stores, or online through eBay or Craigslist, Strausbaugh said. The rings often move from city to city.

Strausbaugh didn’t have estimates of the losses to Columbus retailers but said the burglary unit investigates about 29,000 felony thefts each year — more than any other law-enforcement agency in the state.

Yesterday’s symposium was an example of how retailers and law enforcement share information about strategies to thwart crime and prevent losses. Police also offered updates. One investigation is homing in on a person who has stolen about $140,000 in merchandise from home-improvement stores over several years, Strausbaugh said.

Serial shoplifting can lead to more significant crime, DeWine said.“Someone may steal a few TVs to buy drugs, then get high and kill someone,” he said. “It’s more than lost dollars. This has a rippling effect across society.”

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