In 2021, the Albuquerque-area Home Depot stores lost a combined $4 million from theft.
Among the 10 metro area Albertsons grocery stores, thieves stole $170,000 worth of items.
At a single Albertsons location in the South Valley, thieves became violent 14 times in the last year, “meaning a weapon was used, turning a larceny into a robbery,” said Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Sgt. Donnie Hix.
On Thursday, Hix coordinated a multi-agency retail theft operation involving more than 20 members of law enforcement who attended a briefing outside Coronado Center, before fanning out across the city to monitor activity at retail outlets hit the hardest by theft.
By the end of the day, 16 people were taken into custody — seven were felony arrests and nine were misdemeanor arrests. Three of those arrested had outstanding felony warrants and five had outstanding misdemeanor warrants. Fentanyl was found in the possession of three individuals, Hix said.
Deputies recovered $3,740 in merchandise stolen from five stores.
“There are levels to these types of crimes,” Hix said. At one end are people who steal food and clothing because they are desperate. Officers have the discretion to arrest them, but will often help these individuals access resources in the community, he said.
At the other end of the spectrum are people who are engaged in organized retail theft as professional “boosters,” who regularly steal from stores, and “fences,” who purchase property they know to have been stolen and then resell it.
Hix handed out photo and information sheets on some of the worst offenders to look out for — people who were previously arrested and charged with retail theft and continue to engage in this activity. One person, he said, stole between $3,000 and $7,000 from multiple stores, and another removed $12,000 worth of merchandise from a single store.
Retail theft statistics from 2022 show that the busiest time of the week for shoplifting is on Thursdays, between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m., Hix said.
The Kohl’s department store at Coronado has been a particularly attractive target. Based on investigations, including store and bus surveillance camera footage, thieves would “enter the store in the morning when it opened, immediately steal items, use the free public bus system to get away, and then come back toward the end of the day and do it again,” Hix said.
Thursday’s multi-agency operation involved the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office, New Mexico State Police, the District Attorney’s Office and the New Mexico Organized Retail Crime Association.
Rob Black of the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce said the organization started the Organized Retail Crime Association in September to work closely with law enforcement to address issues around retail theft.
“This is a very large problem and it is creating a situation where our employees and our customers are in danger from violence that has escalated over the last few years,” he said.
(This story has been updated to reflect the total number of people who had been arrested by the end of Thursday’s operation)