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Dallas PD Busts Up Fencing Operation ... But, Wait, Hang On, What's This About Not Answering Under-$50 Shoplifting Calls?

There's just one thing that will get us out of bed the day after the editorial staff's holiday party, on what is (ahem) supposed to be a day off: a City Hall press conference concerning organized retail theft. Mayor Mike Rawlings, Dallas Police Chief David Brown and Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins called a shindig in the Flag Room to announce they've made their first arrest under the new multiagency attack on organized retail theft which you may remember scoffing at earlier this month.

But that announcement was overshadowed by an interesting piece The Dallas Morning News posted about an hour before the press conference began: DPD will no longer respond to shoplifting calls if the stolen merchandise totals $50 or less. Instead, retailers who want to press charges for these offenses will need to file an online affidavit directly with the city prosecutor's office. The Dallas Police Association's president-elect, Ron Pinkston, told the paper that the new policy is intended solely to "lower crime stats" and will "kill small business owners." Shoplifting under $50 accounts for about 40 percent of retail theft, according to Chief Brown. So, then: Is the DPD planning to just ignore pervasive, commonplace theft?

Brown said no and insisted the article oversimplified the new policy. He'd address that later during the press conference. But first to the business at hand: Brown announced that after several months of "surveillance and planning," DPD last week arrested Salvador Martinez Duarte for running a fencing operation out of his home on Symphony Lane, near Samuell and Jim Miller.

"On multiple occasions, Duarte received several retail items at a discount rate," Brown said, mainly women's apparel and goods from Target, DSW Shoe Warehouse and David's Bridal (reps from DSW and David's Bridal were also present this morning). Brown said that officers were able to recover some $13,000 in stolen merchandise from Duarte's home and that he'll likely be charged with a third-degree felony, which could land him up to 10 years in jail.

Rawlings called operations like Duarte's "the snowball on the tip of a very big iceberg," adding, "If you're out there, and you're a criminal involved in this sort of thing, we're comin' after you."

"If it's too good to be true, it's probably stolen," Chief Brown said. "One local fence learned that the hard way."

Brown said Duarte's arrest was meant to underscore "how serious we are with this type of crime." He vowed to end a "revolving door" for low-level thieves by prosecuting middle-men like Duarte more aggressively, and said police and the DA's office "want to figure out a way to take [Duarte's] home from him." Brown called fence operations a serious problem for neighborhoods, because they bring in criminals "hawking stolen goods."

Brown said police expect to make other arrests in connection with Duarte's operation. "We want to sent a strong message we won't tolerate this type of crime," he said.

But when question time came around, everyone wanted to know more about the new policy regarding $50-and-under thefts. Are police really not going to respond in person to these complaints anymore?

"That's a very simple way to describe a very complex change we made," Brown said. He said that $50-and-under offenses are Class C misdemeanors and typically have around a 4 percent conviction rate. Over $50, and the crime's bumped up to a Class B, and Brown said the conviction rate there jumps to around 30 percent. By focusing more intently on higher-dollar crimes, he said, "we create greater consequences."

"Our strategies before weren't very smart," he said, adding that beat officers often had to take time out of their shifts to transport petty thieves to jail. Retailers then often didn't show up to court for lower-amount offenses, he said, leading to the cases going nowhere. He said that the prosecutor's office will continue to press charges for $50-and-under thefts, and that "every crime is counted" in annual crime statistics.

"We're focusing our resources smarter and more efficiently," he added. "We're trying to be smarter on this issue and not expend resources on a lower level [crime]."

Someone asked how retailers will realistically be able to file these theft reports themselves, given that they can't search suspected shoplifters or compel them to give their real names. Brown said retailers with a shoplifter in custody should call 911, where clerks have been instructed to do background checks. If the person has been arrested for theft before, or has warrants out for their arrest, police will respond, he said.

At which Brown tried to get back on topic: "It was a low-level arrest we interviewed who told us about the fence" that Duarte was operating, he said. "This change will improve convictions." Additionally, he explained, business owners will now have to sign an affidavit promising to show up in court if they press charges for theft, no matter what the amount.


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