Thieves steal thousands from local grocery stores

SPOKANE, Wash. - While shoppers are finding it easier to get booze in their baskets, thieves are finding the convenience to their advantage as well.

Alcohol prices are up. Sales are up and theft seems to be tracking right along with that trend. Even theft deterrents like bottle toppers and video cameras don't seem to be making a difference.

In King County, surveillance video shows how easy it is for shop lifters to heist not just one but multiple bottles of booze in just seconds.

Booze Busters

"Grocery stores are losing tens of thousands of dollars," said Seattle assistant city attorney Jana Jorgenson.

On June 1, Initiative 1183 moved alcohol from state control to private endeavors and hard alcohol into the common supermarket.

"One of the local stores told me they lost $24,000 in the first four weeks," said Jorgensen.

Theft is not only just happening on the west side of the state. Just 40 minutes into the first day of alcohol sales, in grocery stores, in Spokane, thieves made their move at a South Hill Rosauer's.

"Obviously he didn't pay for that and as he exited the store some of our employees witnesses what had happened they went out into the parking lot and basically apprehended him the parking lot," said Jeff Phillips, president of Rosauers.

Now, no grocery store chain will go on camera, but some thieves are proud enough of their exploits to talk about it.

"I've stole over $1,200 worth of booze from Safeway," said one homeless man.

This homeless man in Spokane said he earned the nickname "Captain Morgan Bandit" by stealing copious amounts of the spiced rum. He admits he's an alcoholic and says it was just the simplest way to get booze for free.

"Just easy to stuff in your pants," the Captain Morgan Bandit said.

Security toppers don't seem to make much of a difference and can be found littering frequented homeless drinking spots. Even though most grocery stores stepped up their security in the liquor aisles one lady in King County doesn't seem to mind being on camera as she stuffed 14 bottles into her baby stroller.

"And so what we've done to help protect our young people is we've added security cameras inside the store that are monitoring that whole section as well as the rest of the store and we've also added security staff," said Phillips.

Private stores aren't free of sticky fingered friends either but say it's easier to keep an eye on things with a smaller floor plan

"We come out from behind the counter, wait on the individual customer see if they need any help. Keep the shelf faced so if anything is missing you know it right away," said Andrew Swanson, general manager at Zag's Liquor Store at the intersection of Mission and Division.

Swanson says the hardest part of the transition has been the price increase.

"Anyone from the Western United States, we are now the laughing stock, pricing wise," said Swanson.

According to the Washington Department of Revenue, prices are leveling out to about 10-percent higher than last year, driving some people out of state where prices have been historically low. But whether or not it's the prices or the convenience, this man caught on camera loads up a cart and gets ready to just push it out the door, one thing is for certain: Law enforcement has a growing problem on their hands.

"There's probably a number of rings out there working. Stealing alcohol is a quick way to make a buck and easily, easy to get rid of," said Cindy West with the King County Sheriff's Department.

Grocery stores in Spokane weren't willing to divulge just how much liquor theft was happening in their stores.