KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The Knox County Sheriff’s Office put together an organized retail crime unit, teaming up with local grocery stores and other retailers who are often victims of theft. They believe a recent string of shoplifting incidents is connected to the opioid epidemic. They said suspects are selling stolen goods and then using that money to buy drugs.
Lee Tramel with the Knox County Sheriff’s Office said it’s happening every day, by the hour, and most people may not even know it.
‘They have to do their drugs all day. That’s why they are shoplifting all day,” he said.
Tramel noticed a trend. He said drug addicts were stealing goods and then selling them to feed their addiction.
“Hundreds of thousands of dollars being stolen to our retailers and then being sold to other retailers in our community,” he said.
KCSO’s organized retail crime unit is now year round. The department has more officers out patrolling shopping areas around the holidays.
“This is one of the hands on the deck that is working,” said Tramel.
They work with drug addicts and retailers, like Kroger, to catch the thieves and the buyers.
“A lot of people are oblivious of what is going around them,” said one Kroger employee.
This employee needed to keep his identity anonymous. He works with the store’s undercover unit for these types of operations. He has interviewed 150 boosters this year. A booster is someone who steals for a profit.
“The drug epidemic is funding most of it and its a real problem for all retailers,” he said.
His unit helped KCSO with a sting in September in which a South Knoxville restaurant called Roundup was accused of buying stolen meat from drug addicts.
“If there is nowhere to sell it, there is no reason to steal it,” said the employee.
Some of the most popular items to be stolen are beer and meat. Tide laundry products take the number one spot. Tramel said boosters steal anywhere from $250 to $350 per day.
“Learning from these addicts that are stealing everyday. How they are doing it? What they are looking for?” said Tramel.
Tramel said the department is seeing a drop in the number of thefts. He said since local law enforcement and retailers are making it so hard to steal, they’re noticing thieves are going to other counties.
Kroger is currently looking at six cases in the Knoxville area.