A cooperative operation between the organized retail crime (ORC) team at CVS Health and law enforcement has led to a massive recovery of stolen merchandise in northern California in one of the largest ORC cases ever recorded in the US. Multiple arrests have been made and a mountain of health and beauty products were seized from a warehouse location in the San Francisco Bay area over the past several days following a well-planned and diligently executed campaign that ultimately resulted in a $50 million case against a sophisticated organized retail crime operation.
More than $8 million in stolen product was recovered on-site as authorities continue to sort through the inventory of razor blades, white strips, over-the-counter medications, and other health and beauty products while gathering additional details. More than $1.6 million in razor blades alone were recovered. All of the product recovered has been confirmed as stolen from stores across the Bay area and northern California.
The Reality of Organized Retail Crime
Organized retail crime is not simply a shoplifting problem. Retailers are being victimized by large-scale product diversion operations that involve stolen products pilfered from the stores, cleaned, repackaged, and sold in huge quantities through various outlets. Following an explosion of online fencing operations, many of the products are being sold by the truckload and offered for sale through various online market places. Others may even be sold in bulk back to unknowing retailers through different outlets.
“Online demand is really pushing the market for these products,” said Ben Dugan, senior manager of organized retail crime for CVS Health. “But this case also underscores the importance of building relationships between retailers and law enforcement. We worked together and didn’t lose focus. We put together the right strategy, and executed it as a team.”
Dugan is also president of the Coalition of Law Enforcement and Retail (CLEAR), a nationwide non-profit, non-partisan organization founded by law enforcement and retail loss prevention professionals. Providing a forum for public and private sector members, CLEAR’s mission is to aid and support collaborative efforts focused on improving the safety of our communities through training and educational events, open communication, and networking opportunities.
Executing a Strategy during the Pandemic
“Like every retail operation in the country, COVID-19 caused us to rethink many of our core strategies,” explained Dugan. “This included our loss prevention strategies—specifically the way we were approaching organized retail crime. We were put in a position where we had to evaluate how we would effectively deal with ORC issues during the pandemic, putting together the right plan to focus research efforts, collect information, increase awareness, and continue to build key partnerships with our law enforcement partners. Many of the nation’s property crime detectives were forced to work from home, and this provided an opportunity to work closely with law enforcement to gather and develop critical intelligence information. This case is just one (significant) example of how that strategy has paid dividends.”
Dugan added, “With information gathered during the height of the COVID pandemic, the CVS team in partnership with law enforcement were able to identify additional ORC team members, make initial arrests, build intelligence, gather evidence, and construct a case that culminated in the last few days. We really need to give credit to the hard work of our team and our exceptional law enforcement partners. This really came down to executing the plan, and they did a terrific job.”
Dugan was part of a team of experts that shared thoughts on this strategy, “Preparing for an ORC Epidemic Post COVID-19” as part of LP Magazine’s webinar series. An article sourced from the webinar was included in our May–June 2020 print edition.
This is still very much a developing story. Stay tuned to LP Magazine’s continuing coverage to include additional insights, details, and images in the coming days.