Understanding Dallas' Wave of Panty Thefts

Yesterday morning, a man walked into the Victoria's Secret at Mockingbird Station, grabbed $2,000 worth of shirts, sweatshirts and sweatpants, then ran from the store into a waiting Dodge Durango. It was, the Morning News noted, the fourth such theft from the location in about as many months.

They are a routine occurance by now, interesting only in that they invariably involve large, heavily tattooed gentlemen hauling off armfuls of skimpy women's underwear, which is really, really funny, right until the mental image comes into focus.

In fact, though, Victoria's Secret panty raids are something of a national epidemic.

It doesn't take Google long to sniff out dozens of recent incidents in Charlotte, Chicago, New Jersey, Sacramento and pretty much anywhere else where there's a shopping mall and a news outlet eager to use the term "panty raid" in a headline. Typically they involve the thief walking into the store, grabbing an armload of merchandise and walking back out.

Hard numbers are hard to come by, but a 2007 report by security trade mag CSO Online put Victoria's Secret one-year shoplifting losses at $2.7 million. In 2008, police in Pennsylvania busted a theft ring believed to have stolen as much as $1 million in Victoria's Secret merchandise. A 2011 report on organized retail theft by the National Retail Federation listed the brand's "Pink" line of undergarments as among the items most frequently targeted by shoplifters.

All of this, according to another CSO Online article, led Victoria's Secret to assemble a team of in-house investigators who track online auctions, Craigslist postings and the like.

As far as we know, the thieves rarely actually wear the stolen lingerie. More often they sell it, either through an online site like eBay or to a criminal fencer who buys and sells stolen merchandise. It's that type of operation that the Dallas Police Department, with support from the NRF, is hoping to crack down on, at the possible expense of small, independent retailers.

But it appears DPD's efforts haven't yet stemmed Dallas' panty-theft epidemic. Perhaps a more targeted task force is in order. Perhaps there can be an undercover component. Perhaps we can make a gritty cable show of it. And perhaps we can call it The Underwire.*