Sal Leone is a resident of Greensboro, a candidate for City Council District 5, and employed as a police officer in the City of Thomasville
The War Against Shoplifting
by Debbie Hightower
THOMASVILLE – Retail crime in Thomasville is going down thanks to the efforts of Thomasville Police Officer Sal Leone. For the past few years, the 25-year veteran law enforcement officer has waged a war against shoplifting.
“Chief Insley started the shoplifting program two or three years ago,” said Chief Darren Smith. “They did it around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Sal enjoyed it. He did such a good job we left him doing it.”
On a recent morning, Leone made the rounds of retail locations on his beat. That meant circling through the parking lot for some but for others, he exited his trusty 2012 Dodge Charger and walked inside, greeting merchants, clerks and even some customers by name.
His diligence means the criminals know his face. They also know they are no longer welcome. When Leone walks into a store, shoplifters leave — quickly.
Through experience he has come to understand why suspects engage in retail crime. For them, it’s a Robin Hood mentality.
“They don’t want to go to someone’s house and steal. They would rather steal from a large retailer who does a huge amount of business and won’t miss it,” he explained. “They will steal food to eat and merchandise to sell. They will steal $1,000 worth of merchandise and trade it for $100 and they’re good.”
Leone described the process of boosting, an organized retail crime process in which buyers actually give individuals a list of items to steal that are later sold for a fraction of their cost.
“The woman who ran me over back in April did it because she was a big booster,” he said.
After he was hit by the car in a big box parking lot, Leone went right back to work.
Leone’s patrol car also serves as his office. Instead of a filing cabinet Leone keeps files above his driver’s side visor. He doesn’t take a coffee break because crime doesn’t take a break. Instead, he sips coffee as he types with one hand on his laptop. From his dashboard laptop, he can write a citation, complete paperwork for a warrant or check the state database to see if someone has a history of crime.
He knows many repeat offenders by name. Some of them are smiling in their mug shots.
“See that smile on her face? There’s no shame. One woman came to the same store twice in one day. When I arrested her she told me she was going to go back out and do it again.”
Leone’s experience also tells him the root reason for most of Thomasville’s retail theft — drugs. The trail of a shoplifter who had stolen $24 worth of disposable diapers led to a stash of crystal meth in the woman’s purse. She is still in jail.
At the beginning of his 25-year career in law enforcement, Leone encountered five or so needles a year in the line of duty. During recent years, however, needles numbers in the hundreds. Recently, he had to empty the needle disposal receptacle in his patrol car because it was too full to accept any more.
At the Thomasville Police Station, Leone communicates with a Davidson County magistrate through a phone link, eliminating the necessity to travel to Lexington to obtain an arrest warrant.
Shoplifters often get a thrill from stealing merchandise when they think it is undetected. Leone gets his thrill when he catches a perpetrator who thinks they got away.
An average simple arrest takes about two hours out of his day — a worthwhile investment.
Chief Smith described the impact that Leone’s diligence has caused.
“He’s made a lot of arrests and I believe it’s caused a decrease over a period of time.”
In 2016, there were 279 cases of larceny-shoplifting in Thomasville. So far, in 2017 there have been 65 incidents.
“I feel that a lot of our traveling shoplifters target other areas because they know that we have somebody focusing on that,” said Smith. “[The retailers] appreciate him and are glad to see him. Sal taking on that role has definitely been beneficial.”
“Shoplifting has multiple victims,” said Leone. “It hurts not only the retail company, but other customers, the taxpayers and the city.
“Thirty billion plus in national retail theft per year … if you put everything in a national level it’s crazy. When I see a pattern of crime I can connect the dots. It’s a sad, sad game of cat and mouse.
“I love my job.”
Staff writer Debbie Hightower may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 336-888-3576.
The previous article was lifted from the Thomasville Times.