By Ashley Luthern
Police officers spent nearly nine hours addressing crime at a local shopping plaza Wednesday.
Four reports were filed relating to incidents at Walmart and one from Staples. Both stores are located off South Avenue, just north of U.S. Route 224.
Police Chief Jack Nichols said criminals feel “comfortable at Walmart because it seems easy to escape from” with Interstate 680 and South Avenue nearby.
He said shoplifting occurs at least once each day and on average takes an hour of an officer’s time, but that it’s important to keep officers going to those calls.
“When we arrest [people] at Walmart, we never know about that thing that they didn’t do,” he said.
Much of the petty theft is drug-related because people steal items and then trade or sell them for drugs, Nichols noted.
“In a drug-rich environment, which is what we have, the quantity of arrests is important. The number of times you slap the handcuffs on has the impact,” Nichols said.
Seven police officers were on the roads Wednesday afternoon, according to records.
On the first call to Walmart at 3 p.m. Wednesday, police arrested Tammie Lee Ritenour, 50, of Edinburg, Pa., on charges of stealing merchandise valued at $37.62.
She was arrested and released on $1,250 bond. Police spent about two hours and 20 minutes from the time of dispatch to clearing the call.
Shortly after that, a woman came to the police department on Market Street to report her checks stolen and used for purchases at Walmart this week.
An officer was sent to Walmart for information on the stolen checks and reported that the suspect made purchases valued at more than $1,200.
From the time the woman came to the lobby to the time the officer left Walmart, two hours and eight minutes passed.
Again, an officer was sent to Walmart at 6:33 p.m. because a man had cashed a check for $312.67 and returned to the cashier saying he received a counterfeit $20 bill. The cashier confirmed the bill was fake and told the man Walmart had to contact the police per corporate policy, according to reports.
The man drove away, and employees gave police his registration number, records state. Police said that when they ran the number through LEADS, they saw the man has an active warrant from Campbell police for failure to appear on a weapons offense. That call took one hour and 15 minutes.
Around 7:20 p.m. police were called to Staples for a camcorder theft and left 40 minutes later.
On the midnight shift, which had six officers on patrol, two officers responded to two shoplifters fleeing Walmart.
According to reports, two men suspected of opening potato chips and M&Ms and eating them without paying first ($1.97 value) ran when the store’s loss-prevention officers approached them.
An officer caught and arrested a 17-year-old from Boardman. The teen was charged with theft, obstructing official business and resisting arrest, report state.
Police said they could not find the other man, who was chased by officers into a vacant lot and wooded area.
Nichols said it’s rare that teens flee, but if they do, it’s still important to apprehend them.
“If they’re 17 and doing that, you have to address it, because if you let it go, it just turns into bigger issues later,” he said.
The township is still considering charging businesses impact fees, which would be based on the projected impact the development would have on township services, said township Administrator Jason Loree.
The police chief said officers will continue to go to shoplifting crime scenes.
“I don’t want to be in a position where we have merchants apprehending shoplifters. It seems like a small thing, but it’s really not,” Nichols said.