Crackdown as Soho shoplifters make out like bandits

The Frist Precinct has been cracking down on thieves targeting Soho shops.  Downtown Express photo by Kaitlyn Meade

The Frist Precinct has been cracking down on thieves targeting Soho shops.
Downtown Express photo by Kaitlyn Meade

BY KAITLYN MEADE    |  Diamond Goins was seen last week walking out of Soho’s designer Balenciaga boutique with a $1,200 handbag under his arm at 3:30 in the afternoon, police reported — without paying for it. The manager chased after 19-year-old Goins, who ran out the front door only to be tackled by a passerby who was walking down the sidewalk, recalled Luis Rosario, a security guard at Balenciaga. The suspect dropped the merchandise and security was able to recover it, he said.

Two days later, Goins was arrested and charged with grand larceny not only for the Balenciaga bag grab but he was also accused of taking a five-fingered discount on a $1,495 Versace purse from the brand’s 160 Mercer St. location.

The Soho arrest is only the latest in what security guards in the area have called a police crackdown on shoplifting. Several guards commented that more officers are walking the streets south of Houston as well as contacting stores with video stills and photos of offenders over the past week in response to a summer increase in shoplifters who target designer goods.

A First Precinct officer, speaking on background, confirmed the crime spike, noting that the number of larcenies alone increased last week by 58 percent in the first precinct, mostly from incidents in Soho.  About 72 percent of this year’s serious crime in the precinct, which covers much of Lower Manhattan up to Houston St., is classified as grand larceny.

“It’s getting out of control,” Rosario said during his break outside the 138 Wooster St. boutique. “To be honest with you, [shoplifters] have been here six times in six months. This month, they’ve been here three times.”

Earlier in the month, Balenciaga’s manager reported to police that a woman walked out with a $1,695 black perforated handbag, after distracting the sales associate by asking to see shoes in a different size and then leaving. “[Police] are trying to fix it, because it has been worse this month, trust me,” Rosario said.

At a June 17 meeting between stores’ risk prevention managers and police, the N.Y.P.D. attempted to work with stores on ways to minimize risk, such as moving more valuable items to the back of the store instead of near the doors, putting up surveillance cameras, and hiring security, but received a mixed response, said the officer.

Eight managers of Soho boutiques declined to comment for this article as did a few of their corporate offices.

Moving more expensive items like handbags to the back of the store is out of the question for brands that are known for their designer purses, despite the fact that they are common targets for shoplifters because they are easy to carry and have a high resell value.

“That’s how they make their living,” said Rosario, the security guard. “They steal one bag for $1,500 and resell it for $500. They do that a few weeks in Westchester and then a few weeks in Manhattan, and by the time they come back, you’ve forgotten them.”

And until the stores share video of shoplifters among their locations, Rosario says he believes it will keep happening.

Installing security cameras and sharing security footage may not prevent shoplifting, but it would provide police with more information after the fact, preventing a situation like the one this week at Anthropologie, where $1,081 worth of women’s shirts went missing from the shelves at 375 West Broadway. Police were unable to get an exact time or description of the theft because the location does not have security cameras and the employee only noticed the missing items during a store inventory on Friday, July 19. Even then, she waited until the next day to call the police.

Of course, most designer brands have some form of security team, but some guards said that shoplifters know their hours and aim for the times when they are on break. An increased security presence might alleviate it, but the question for corporate headquarters is, “Is it worth it?”

If hiring security for a year could cost $45,000, said one police officer, and they only lose several thousand-dollar bags per store, the money spent on full-time security does not add up.

However, it does make employees safer and prevents losses in higher numbers. Especially when teams hit the store for several thousand, as the chain boutique Kirna Zabete learned last month when thieves made off with a number of bags that added up to a $36,800 retail price tag in one go.

Three men entered the location, then at 96 Greene St., and began to take down handbags ranging from $1,800 to $5,600 in retail value. When an employee confronted them, police said that one of the robbers replied, “I have a gun” and pulled a black cellphone from his pocket as though it was a weapon and fled the store with 14 designer bags and into a getaway vehicle.

The store has since moved location around the corner to 477 Broome St., and the new security guard, Adrian Fox, did not seem overly worried, since he said he has worked as a club bouncer and hospital security. “Presence is the key in all security. Retail security — that’s all about protecting property and people and still being a deterrent.”

Jonathan Adolphe agreed as he stood inside the front door of Chanel at 139 Spring St., opening the door for customers and keeping a wary eye on the floor.

“We have five people on the floor at all times, three security guards… Once they find out that a lot of people have eyes on them, they try to back out,” he said.

“We’ve had three incidents in the last four days here, but they didn’t get away with the bags. We’re pretty good at making sure our merchandise stays in our store, and not in anyone else’s hands,” he laughed.

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