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More thefts are reported at this Phoenix shopping center than anywhere else in the city

By Kunle Falayi, Arizona Republic,


When Liz Balderaz returned as manager of the Rainbow retail clothing store at Phoenix's Christown Spectrum mall in June, one of her first actions was to order a batch of sensor tags.

She wanted them installed on every item, even underwear as cheap as $2, because the amount of shoplifting at the store concerned her.

On a recent afternoon, she took a shirt with a tag attached to it and stepped through the doors of the store. An ear-piercing alarm went off immediately.

"That's how loud the alarm is," she said. "But it has not stopped shoplifters from stealing here regularly."

Almost on a daily basis, employees at the store find tags on the floor that were broken off of stolen merchandise.

Rainbow is just one of many stores in the sprawling Christown mall, but they all have something in common: the shopping center and the surrounding area near 15th Avenue and Bethany Home Road have the most thefts anywhere in the city, according to the Phoenix Police Department data analyzed by The Arizona Republic and

Retail stores and shop owners in the mall and surrounding businesses have so far reported more than 340 cases of thefts this year. The bulk appears to happen at the Target superstore on the mall's west side, along 19th Avenue.

But numbers reflect only the thefts that store owners and managers report to the police. Many go unreported because some stolen merchandise falls below the minimum values stores will call the police about. Store policies differ in this regard, though employees at the mall said they think police could do more to help prevent the stealing.

“In an average month, we have more days of someone stealing than days when nobody did,” said Brad Ford, who manages the Big 5 Sporting Goods store.

He said they don't call police if the shoplifted merchandise is worth less than $250.

Two individuals and a third person he believed was a lookout had come into the store to steal shoes 15 minutes before he spoke with a reporter.

Shoplifters do not just target clothing and shoes at the mall.

Ford described how two young girls sprung a surprise attack by jumping over a glass counter behind which he normally sits, to steal a carbon dioxide BB pistol worth about $230 just a few days prior.

They succeeded in leaving with the merchandise. The store did not report the theft to police.

Theft in Phoenix: These areas of Phoenix have the highest number of reported thefts

Target seeking 'public policy solutions'

Cases of shoplifting have hit retailers’ bottom line in the past few years. The 2022 National Retail Security Survey carried out by the National Retail Federation found that retailers lost an estimated $94.5 billion to inventory loss, called "shrink", in 2021, an increase of $4 billion over 2020 and nearly double the 2019 figure.

Target CEO Brian Cornell said in a forecast in May that the company would lose $500 million to retail crimes this year. Even though police data does not include names of specific stores where shoplifting occurred, The Republic analysis shows the Target superstore at Christown and another location at 75th Avenue and West Virginia Avenue are the among retail stores most affected by shoplifting in Phoenix this year.

“Theft and organized retail crime are urgent issues limiting product availability, creating a less convenient shopping experience and putting our team and guests in harm’s way," the company said in a statement when asked about the impact of shoplifting at its Christown store.

The retailer also said it is "working with legislators, law enforcement and retail industry partners to advocate for public policy solutions to combat theft and organized retail crime.” Target did not specify what those solutions might entail.

Ford at Big 5 said there is a need for law enforcement to rethink how to address shoplifting because stores can do little on their own.

Police data shows that this year has a lower number of reported thefts than the same period last year both at Christown and across the city. However, one store manager doubted that the data shows an accurate picture of the situation, as many times stores don't call police, such as when a shoplifter has already left the store.

"It's about the punishment behind the crime," said Michael Gates, manager of Foot Locker at Christown.

He said police would sometimes arrest shoplifters at the mall who came back the next day to steal some more.

"If I knew that every time the police came, the system would do what it was supposed to do, then I would pick up the phone every time I had a problem," Gates said. "But that's not the case."

Is there more police can do to help?

A Phoenix Police Department spokesperson, Sgt. Robert Scherer, said Community Action Officers are dedicated to this problem in each precinct. He said the rate of thefts is related to the volume of commercial activities in the neighborhood.

When asked whether more patrols in the vicinity of the mall could help catch shoplifters, another spokesperson, Sgt. Brian Bower, said this is often unrealistic, even if ideal.

"Depending on the area of the city, many patrol officers are responding from one call to the next and do not have time to patrol areas known to be victims of shoplifting," he said.

Bower said many shoplifters are issued a citation and are not booked into jail. Even when a suspect is booked into jail, they may be released within just a few hours.

Other major retail centers in Phoenix suffer the scourge of shoplifting. Stores at Desert Sky Mall and its neighborhood have reported more than 260 cases this year. Desert Ridge Marketplace also has some of the highest cases of shoplifting this year so far.

“Each precinct has assigned Community Action Officers who work with local residents and local businesses in ways to reduce property crime in their area,” Scherer said. “We would encourage any business not already in contact with their assigned CAO to make contact and work in partnership to positively address any concerns that they may have.”

While some stores may report shoplifting less frequently, the Christown area has among the highest volume of calls to police of malls in the city , according to a Republic analysis. It's second only to Desert Sky Mall in Maryvale.

Christown did not just recently become the most frequent location for theft in the city. It has topped the list every year since 2015, with the exception of 2022.

Store managers said they cannot physically restrain shoplifters from leaving with merchandise and that can embolden them to return.

“What we tried to do is resort to the tactic of killing them with kindness,” Balderaz, the manager at Rainbow, said.

“Giving excessive attention to people who walk into the store serves the purpose of excellent customer service,” she explained. “It also shows would-be shoplifters that we’ve got our eyes on you.”

For many stores, even those that experience shoplifting just once every two weeks, concern about shoplifting has an effect.

"There isn't a day you don't get anybody that you don't have to worry about," Gates, the Foot Locker manager, said. "It takes some energy every day to be aware of shoplifters."

Why is Christown the city's hotspot for theft?

Jennifer Maisch, vice president of marketing and corporate communications for Kimco Realty Corp., which owns the Christown Spectrum, told The Republic that while the high levels of thefts are concerning, they are not necessarily surprising because of high commercial activities at the mall.

But why are thefts consistently higher at Christown than other commercial centers? Maisch said she thinks the unhoused population may contribute.

"The presence of numerous homeless shelters in the immediate vicinity, as well as a public rail system adjacent to the property, bring in a transient population we don't have control over," she said. "These factors do impact the overall safety environment and are something that needs to be considered in a broader community effort to reduce crime."

Maisch did not respond when asked how she knew that people experiencing homelessness were significantly contributing to the number of shoplifting incidents at the mall.

She said Kimco has contracted a security firm to try to deter theft at the mall.

Reach the reporter at .

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: More thefts are reported at this Phoenix shopping center than anywhere else in the city

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