The results from the sheriff’s latest intelligence-led policing sting are in, and criminals understand the message: Stay away from Sarasota County.
Sheriff Tom Knight announced at an Aug. 1 press conference the success of Operation Booster Buster — a crackdown on retail theft and organized crime rings that resulted in 59 arrests. The bust marks the latest in a string of high-profile, Sheriff’s Office-led operations against crime sprees that parallels a steady, overall drop in crime rates countywide.
Collaborating with area businesses, the Sheriff’s Office used crime mapping and intelligence analysis to identify and arrest prolific offenders — concentrating manpower and resources where it was needed most.
The Sheriff’s Office released video that showed shoplifters stuffing hundreds of dollars of stolen goods down their shirts and pants. The offenders will sometimes hit up to 14 stores in a day, the Sheriff’s Office said.
“These are criminals who do this for a living,” Knight said.
Area retailers that cooperated in the bust include: WalMart, Home Depot, Bealls, Bealls Outlet, Burlington Coat Factory, Target and Sports Authority.
“I’ve never seen an effort like this before from law enforcement,” said Gregg Greer, district manager for asset protection at Sports Authority. “I was impressed. I stand behind the Sheriff’s Office and will work with them anytime.”
Retail theft is a multimillion-dollar problem locally, Knight said.
The eight-day operation was another success for Knight’s intelligence-led policing program called “Intelligence 2 Action” (I2A).
“Rather than just saturating an area with deputies, we are able to strategically deploy manpower and go after the small percentage of criminals who commit the vast majority of crimes,” Knight said. “It’s the most manpower-efficient way of fighting crime.”
I2A revolves around intelligence data gathered through crime mapping, confidential informant reports, deputy field interviews and other confidential techniques. Then, a cadre of five intelligence analysts and seven detectives at the Crime Analysis Unit (CAU) analyze the data and send it to deputies in the covert surveillance TAC unit.
I2A was central to the success of Operation Meltdown — a 2011 crackdown on scrap metal thieves that resulted in 62 arrests.
Booster Buster is the perfect example of the I2A model, said Lt. John Jernigan, a 24-year veteran of the Sarasota Sheriff’s office who works in the TAC unit and helped lead the operation.
“Intel analysis showed us that we were seeing a spike in retail theft at our local businesses,” Jernigan said.
“We then matched that intel to known prolific offenders to predict where and when they operate and what techniques they use. This all factors into how we deploy our resources.”
Maj. Kevin Kenney said the cornerstone of I2A is to be proactive and not reactive to crime.
“It’s hunting, not fishing,” Kenney said.
Since Knight took office in 2009, crime is down 21% in Sarasota, compared with a 6% decrease statewide during the same period. According to Kenney, Sarasota County has led the state in crime-rate reductions among counties with populations exceeding 100,000.
Knight said I2A has been the key to reducing crime in Sarasota County. “Having intelligence and being able to act on it makes us much more fluid,” Knight said. “We’re actually predicting where crimes will occur.”
One of the effects of high-profile stingsm, such as Booster Buster, is that prolific offenders decide to take their criminal enterprises elsewhere, said Jernigan.
“We send a message that shoplifting and organized crime within these establishments will not be tolerated in Sarasota County,” Jernigan said.
The Sheriff’s Office reported that suspects arrested in Booster Buster made calls from jail to warn other shoplifters to stay away from Sarasota retailers.
“We’re very happy with what Sheriff Knight has done,” County Commissioner Nora Patterson said, referring to the success of Booster Buster and the falling crime rate. “He has the support of the commission.”
Contact Nolan Peterson at email@example.com.
BY THE NUMBERS
Operation Booster Buster
59: the number of arrests made
1,000: prior charges the arrested criminals had
99: new charges filed
15: prolific offenders arrested
58: total misdemeanor charges filed
41: total felony charges filed
7: the number of area retailers involved in the operation
8: the length in days of the operation