MONROE — A shoplifter in Monroe last week used a device that is supposed to help people fight crime to commit one.
The man apparently activated a rape alarm, also called a personal safety alarm, and left it underneath a shelf at a drug store. The tiny heart-shaped alarm, which is marketed to women, emitted a high-pitched sound.
While store security was checking out the noise, the man fled with $841 of stolen merchandise.
The incident unfolded shortly after 1 p.m. March 30 at the Walmart store along N. Kelsey Street.
Store staff then reviewed the surveillance footage, Monroe police spokeswoman Debbie Willis said.
“It’s really after that, they pieced it together, they really understood what happened,” she said.
The man had arrived at the store in a car with two other people. He walked around inside, filling a shopping cart with items. The high-resolution video footage made it possible to identify each piece of merchandise, Willis said.
“Two of the items, a sewing machine and a computer router, were the most expensive and totaled about $393,” Willis said. “The rest of the items were food and general merchandise.”
The man also apparently placed a vacuum cleaner near a fire exit. Police suspect he was going to come back for the vacuum later but lost his nerve. One of the suspect’s accomplices also filled up a cart but later ditched it and left empty-handed, Willis said.
“There are several foiled attempts,” she said.
Vacuums, particularly high-end models, are a favorite target of criminals who coordinate their shoplifting. State law calls the activity “organized retail theft,” and police say it’s been in fashion among drug addicts for more than a decade. Organized retail theft can lead to felony charges, including cases when the dollar amount surpasses $750.
The suspect in the Monroe case went to the pharmacy section. He left the cart of merchandise nearby while he talked to the pharmacist. Then he went into an aisle, threw the alarm under a shelf, grabbed the cart and left.
“Security hears what sounded like one of their security alarms going off near the pharmacy so they start looking in that direction and found the personal alarm, which is black and shaped like a heart,” Willis said.
Monroe police have never seen this particular ruse before, she said. A bulletin was sent to retailers in the area to alert them. Anyone who recognizes the suspect is asked to call 360-794-6300. Anonymous tips also can be left at 360-863-4600.
Since May 2014, Monroe police have organized monthly meetings with retailers to talk about organized shoplifting in east Snohomish County. They work together to identify so-called frequent flier shoplifters.
“We share a lot of information with our retailers and they with us and then across the retail community.” Willis said.
Shoplifting “is a crime that goes hand-in-hand with other criminal activity, whether it’s drugs or theft of other items,” she said.
Rikki King: 425-339-3449; firstname.lastname@example.org.