We have often heard it said that information is power. But in real terms, that idea is largely incomplete. The fact is, with most of us having access to millions of pieces of information literally at our fingertips with the touch of a button or the swipe of a thumb, information is only power if you can effectively use it and constructively act with it.
Knowledge is power. We must be able to sort through all the information at our disposal, process what it is and the value it holds, manage the best and most effective ways that information can be useful for us, and then apply what we’ve learned to achieve our objectives.
It is vital that we connect the dots and do so in a way that others can understand and follow to bring investigations to their successful conclusion.
This is why data-sharing programs have become so essential to organized retail crime investigations. In response to the alarming rise of organized retail crime, retailers have teamed up with law enforcement agencies to launch secure data-sharing programs as an integral part of the various organized retail crime associations (ORCAs) across the country. This allows these agencies to work in concert to report, monitor, and investigate all forms of organized retail crime using a secure, private platform to protect the integrity of the investigation.
These databases provide a proactive tool that uses a secure web interface for data entry, incident alerts, viewing files as part of ongoing investigations, and ongoing incident queries. Information related to organized retail crime and related criminal investigations is entered into these databases, allowing investigators to create automated alerts and conduct queries based on selected criteria that could align with similar investigations they are engaged in. Photos, video footage, and other valuable data can typically be attached to incident profiles as well.
How We Got Here
In the summer of 2020, as the ORCAs in Action initiative was just getting underway, LP Magazine held a closed- door meeting with the leaders of all the various ORCAs across the country to review their most pressing needs and how to best support the ORCAs in their efforts. While data-sharing opportunities were previously part of the ORCA platform, there were several concerns raised about the existing offering, and a unanimous request was made to search for and implement world-class data-sharing programs to enhance communication, support ORC investigations, and ensure the privacy and security of the information network.
To support this request, an ORCA Leadership Technology Summit soon followed, with six technology-driven loss prevention solution providers generously offering their support. The ORCAs were free to choose from among the solution providers that best fit their individual needs and partnerships quickly evolved. Appriss Retail, Auror, Detective Analytics, Innovise, Ministry of Ideas, and Trueth were among the solution providers that took part.
“Supporting the ORCAs is about supporting our communities,” says Jason Bier, president at Treuth and general counsel and chief privacy officer at Adstra. “That was our primary motivation. By taking part in this initiative, we saw an opportunity to support retailers, law enforcement, and the communities they serve. We believe that driving innovation to improve intelligence and communication is a critical cog in the fight against organized retail crime and concluded that we want to be part of the solution.”
“After gaining a better understanding of what the ORCAs are all about, we came to the decision that it made sense for us to support these critical data sharing networks,” revealed Bobby Haskins, vice president of retail partnerships at Auror. “But we also felt that there was more that we could do. With all the other challenges they were facing, we felt the ORCAs shouldn’t bear the expense of supporting the data share and all the costs that go along with it. With all the other needs they have, we truly believed that taking steps to remove the friction that comes along with those expenses was in the best interest of the industry. We came to the conclusion that we needed to provide the ORCAs with a great way to share information—and do it for free.”
By building a national network of information sharing done the right way— and in a very secure manner— these solutions have benefited all the ORCAs. The support and subject matter expertise from the solution provider community have laid the groundwork for a solution that provides confidence and credibility in the program, all while removing a financial burden that up until this point was hindering the growth of many of the ORCAs.
How It Works
The platforms that the ORCAs are currently using feature an open-share concept, with a feel similar to a social media platform. Once you log in, you will typically see a newsfeed of information and events, including the most current incidents occurring within the ORCA network. Fundamentally a retail crime intelligence platform, it includes event reporting, subject profiles, vehicle profiles, methods of operation, and other related information. You can then filter the feed to capture things that are relevant from a county, state, or national perspective. It’s real-time sharing, built to get as many eyes across it as possible.
“Retail investigators and law enforcement members post informational bulletins and crime events into the database and the platform seamlessly shares the data with other ORCA members throughout the country,” says Jake Crank with the Nevada ORCA (NVORCA). “It’s a very easy platform to navigate. Posting a bulletin generally takes anywhere from four to five minutes. The beauty of it is that it brings all the ORCA groups together in a secure setting, allowing us to link cases both locally and nationally if needed.”
That intelligence is then visible to any other ORCA that’s part of the network. Reporting includes details like what was stolen, what the subject was wearing, distinct features they may have, and any other information that would pertain to other reports that LP and law enforcement might complete. The information is entered into the platform in a structured way so that distinct information, like specific clothing items, can be entered into the database. Photos and videos can be uploaded as well.
“Ultimately, the goal is to identify trends, connect incidents across different retail locations and jurisdictions, and identify major players in the organized theft rings impacting our communities,” added Chad McManus CFI, CFE, LPC, with the Georgia Retailers Organized Crime Alliance (GROC).
“The system may be a little more difficult than sending an email to a group, but is still very simple inputting individuals, vehicles, and other information,” says Ed Fritz, crime prevention supervisor with the city of Boise police department (ORCAID). “However, with the ability to link suspects and vehicles and other incidents across the platform to other ORCAs and states, the couple of minutes to submit an incident can pay huge dividends in suspect identification and building cases.”
Every ORCA member can post and share information, though not required. With some organizations more cautious about sharing information, membership and participation are still welcomed and invited regardless of whether you are posting information to the platform. As a member, you always have the ability to digest the available information, apply what you’ve learned, and comment and contribute in other ways. Inside the platform, members can communicate with each other without ever having to submit an incident into the system.
The individual ORCAs control who can load information into the platforms and who can see it. There are a lot of eyes viewing every ORCA member before they’re ever added to the platform. An audit trail also helps from a privacy standpoint with checks and balances for those involved.
“Each ORCA approves their members through a specific vetting process, which allows for a safe space for users with granted access,” says Carolyn Doran with the New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania Metro Area Organized Retail Crime Alliance (METRORCA). “The ORCAs have both retailers and law enforcement that vet incoming members and approve their inclusion before they’re able to gain access and then share and view intelligence information.”
“Above and beyond the vetting that takes place within the ORCAs, we also review new member information before allowing them to use the platforms,” says Haskins. “If someone has questions about the platform and the privacy and security measures in place, we welcome a conversation with their legal and privacy teams to talk them through how we have built privacy by design into the platform. Our CEO is a former privacy attorney. It’s a safe environment where you know who has access to it, how it’s being shared, and who is viewing it in a manner that’s much more controlled than the ways that this same information has traditionally been shared. Everything we do here, we think through the privacy framework first. We want to make sure we always meet or exceed the privacy standards that are out there.”
Technology Leading Change
Maximizing performance and finding the best ways to improve what we do and how we accomplish our goals is what innovation should be all about. By effectively applying the tools of technology to build networks and more effectively approach the devastating impact of organized retail crime, we are further heightening collaboration between retailers and law enforcement partners across the nation.
The ability to easily track suspects, identify ORC trends, link cases, and share information is critical. This truly takes the battle beyond city and state borders and gives us the ability to collaborate with partners across the nation. Investigators become more proactive, trends and suspects can be more accurately identified, and cases are built faster and stronger. It allows us to quickly recognize evolving threats and adopt effective preventive measures. From a networking and partnership perspective, it allows direct access to those actively engaged in ORC investigations and related cases to improve efficiency and drive results.
“ORC in Oregon is now more than ever a collaborative effort, where retail investigators work together and hand- in- hand with law enforcement,” says Jeremy Girard with the Oregon Organized Retail Crime Association (ORCAOR). “And it all starts with information sharing. Many case partnerships have been created after network sharing. It builds interest as well as information, leading to stronger investigations and more productive outcomes. Sharing information will often give the next city or state down the corridor a heads up, save the next retailer from becoming a victim, and when handled properly, deter crimes and solve cases.”
“By connecting and keeping each other informed, we have learned that taking a community approach is the most effective way to expose and deal with the ORC problem for what it is,” says Rob Black, president and CEO of the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce
(NMORCA). “We’re all dealing with the same problems and often the same people. Today, we are learning to deal with that in a unified way. Our network, with partners all over the state falling under the same umbrella, is what makes it special. We get the advantage over the bad guys. Working together and using the platform to our advantage, we get to see the big picture. We get to focus on the criminal network, not just the individual crime. The technology exists to remove the anonymity of individuals who hop from retailer to retailer and expose them for who and what they really are.”
The Last Word on Data-Sharing
Data-sharing platforms may be one of many tools now available in the ORCA toolbox, but it’s an important one. Finding ways to maximize productivity and build positive results in the fight against this multi-billion-dollar problem should include every option at our disposal, pushing the limits of our efforts and ingenuity. Enhancing our ability to communicate information and work together should be a no-brainer.
The ORCAs are doing a tremendous job of opening eyes and minds to the depth of the problem, but also finding new and creative ways to lead the charge. With that in mind, we’ll give the ORCAs the last word on the value of the data-sharing networks.
“As with anything, success can only come with the support and individual efforts of all our partners,” says Fritz (ORCAID). “I feel we have been successful in our efforts and can only see that success growing as we continue to foster our partnerships, using the technology to build connections and make sharing seamless. We are all connected through ORC. This tool just gives us the ability to recognize those connections quickly and more effectively.”
“More and more retailers are getting involved in ORCAs and information sharing” says Crank (NVORCA). “Retailers are partnering like never before—and as a direct result, we are seeing wins like never before. However, there are still many great companies that are unwilling to share information or engage in the ORCAs. I would urge those companies to reconsider that approach. Numbers don’t lie. ORC is getting worse and the only way we can hope to battle the problem is by working together and collaborating.” “When it comes to ORC and taking down these criminal networks, information sharing is more important than ever,” says Girard (ORCAOR). “For those retailers that remain hesitant to share information on ORCA sites or participate in our regular ORC meetings, I strongly believe they need to rethink their policies and understand that they are only slowing down the fight.”
“Bridging the gap between law enforcement and retailers has always been one of our primary goals at GROC,” says McManus. “ORCAs allow investigators to become more proactive. Through the platform, investigators and stakeholders now have contacts in most jurisdictions across the state. Our network has allowed enhanced collaboration between retailers and law enforcement, leading to more coordinated efforts. With the ability to receive real-time information, trends and suspects can be identified, and cases built faster and stronger. We have seen improved communication and partnerships, consistently leading to successful collaboration between retail and law enforcement to build cases and take down ORC suspects.”
“As with most anything, success will come to those that seek it,” says Doran (METRORCA). “By utilizing a platform that allows contributors to remain cross-functional, we have an impact on dismantling these crime networks through continuous efforts and collaboration. The database also allows for consistency across several ORCAs, making it easier and more efficient to identify and prosecute ORC groups. I feel that these efforts have been extremely successful— in fact, pivotal to the success of several large-scale ORC investigations. The more robust the membership, the more we are able to collaborate, influence change, and combat ORC in our communities.”
“We have momentum that we have never seen before,” adds Black. “We are consistently seeing offenders identified and prosecuted. Law enforcement takes an active role in identifying suspects and working with retailers to build cases. All of this is new to New Mexico, and we couldn’t be more excited. Our retail members have shown amazing leadership by working collaboratively across companies and law enforcement agencies. The deep level of collaboration between business, law enforcement, and prosecutors is making a difference in New Mexico and the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce is proud to be part of the solution.”
Take the leap and get involved! Learn more about the ORCAs in your area of responsibility here.