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Traveling thieves strike Best Buy in Ross

| Monday, Dec. 3, 2012, 9:14 a.m.
A suspect in retail thefts at the Best Buy in Ross. Courtesy of Ross Police Department
A suspect in retail thefts at the Best Buy in Ross. Courtesy of Ross Police Department
Two suspects in retail thefts at the Best Buy in Ross. Courtesy of Ross Police Department
A suspect in retail thefts at the Best Buy in Ross. Courtesy of Ross Police Department
A suspect in retail thefts at the Best Buy in Ross. Courtesy of Ross Police Department
Suspects in retail thefts at the Best Buy in Ross are believed to be using the SUV to the right in this image. Courtesy of Ross Police Department

Ross police believe organized thieves recently targeted at least two businesses in the township, and departments in other communities are stepping up patrols to combat crime at shopping complexes during the holiday season.

At least four middle-aged white men working together stole nearly $5,000 in merchandise from the Best Buy on McKnight Road on Sept. 22 and Nov. 11, Ross police Sgt. Benjamin Dripps said. He said police expect them to return and try again.

“They commit the theft and are gone for a few weeks,” Dripps said. “We think that pattern will continue.”

In a separate incident, five people, also believed to be part of an organized theft ring, stole thousands of dollars worth of Louis Vuitton handbags from the store in Ross Park Mall on Thursday. Dripps said he doesn't think the culprits are the same as those in the Best Buy thefts.

“Everything is different,” Dripps said.

Dripps said investigators believe the men in the Best Buy thefts are part of an organized ring traveling along the East Coast. They stole GPS units and calculators from Best Buy, he said.

“They're very organized and nonconfrontational with employees,” Dripps said. “They target items not typically stolen locally. It would appear they've contracted with someone for the specific items. They clearly have a plan in place.”

The suspects used a white sport utility vehicle, possibly an older Ford Expedition, in the heists, police said.

Police in Bethel Park, Monroeville and Robinson increased patrols in shopping areas but said they haven't encountered organized retail theft rings in their communities.

“This time of year, typically we start to see an increase in certain types of crime like retail theft,” Bethel Park police Chief John Mackey said. “But certainly not on an organized level like that. It's that time of year, unfortunately.”

North Fayette police also increased patrols in shopping districts, Lt. Michael Hamm said.

“We do that to create a visual presence,” Hamm said. “If they see police in the Wal-Mart parking lot, they might think twice about going there.”

A few months ago, a group of “till tappers” stole cash out of a store register, Hamm said. Investigators, who identified persons of interest, believe those responsible are part of an organized ring, he said.

“They basically take money from cash registers by confusing the clerk,” Hamm said. “They'll take a large amount of cash from the register without them knowing it.”

Retailers in North Fayette increased the number of security officers on duty and video surveillance systems in use to help deter crime, Hamm said.

“The video surveillance cameras are getting better and better, which enables us to identify them easier,” he said.

Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8519 or mharding@tribweb.com.

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