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Back to Archives | Back to September 2009 Contents 

Targeting Organized Retail Crime:
Inside the Forensic Operations of One of the World’s Largest Retailers

By Rick Lautenbach, Manager, Target Forensic Services



arget operates more than 1,700 stores in 49 states nationwide, employing more than 350,000 team members in stores, distribution centers, and headquarters locations in the United States and overseas. With thousands of team members and millions of guests and products, the company places a high priority on providing safe and secure environments in and around its stores and working in partnership with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.

One particularly challenging issue for retailers and police is organized retail crime (ORC)—large-scale operations involving individuals or teams of sophisticated, well-connected criminals who steal products with the intent to sell them for a significant profit, often funding other criminal activities.

Since ORC spans multiple retailers, metropolitan markets, states, and law enforcement jurisdictions, it requires a multifaceted approach to combat it, including cooperation among public agencies and private companies. However, with an increased strain on law enforcement resources, many police agencies find it difficult to address property crime issues to the extent they would like, including ORC.

To help support law enforcement and ensure the safety and security of our team members, guests, and communities, Target developed an innovative investigations approach to mitigate significant theft and fraud risks and ensure safe and secure working and shopping environments.


The Target Investigations Model

Investigations centers positioned in several states serve as resources for all Target stores, leveraging technology to provide investigative support and allowing for real-time communication with store teams about crime in their area. Additionally, investigators in markets across the country act as local, mobile support for stores, conducting investigations and partnering with law enforcement to resolve ORC activity and support safe and secure environments.

The Target forensic labs often are a key link between the investigative model and law enforcement prosecution since they provide scientific examination of evidence for Target and its law enforcement partners.

Investigations Centers positioned in several states
serve as resources for all Target stores, leveraging
technology to provide investigative support and
allowing for real-time communication with store
teams about crime in their area.
All Photos courtesy of Target Forensic Labs


Focus on Forensics

Target’s forensic labs in Minneapolis and Las Vegas have earned a strong reputation for recovering and analyzing critical evidence when crime impacts Target, including ORC. Specializing in audio, video, image, and latent fingerprint analysis, the labs focus most of their work on evidence uncovered by Target’s investigators. Evidence examinations include the following:

  • Clarification of images from video

  • Photographic comparisons

  • Automobile make and model identification

Additionally, latent fingerprint examiners can detect and develop fingerprints left on evidence and compare them with those from other crimes affecting Target, establishing connections between separate acts and helping to identify criminal suspects. Law enforcement can then use these fingerprints to formally identify suspects by comparing them with fingerprint records.

Accredited by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board (ASCLD/LAB), Target forensic labs use management, personnel, procedures, equipment, and facilities that meet more than 90 stringent standards, covering rigorous training, quality, scientific methodology, and review expectations. This accreditation and attention to high-quality work ensure the labs can support law enforcement partners in every state.

Specializing in audio, video, image, and latent
fingerprint analysis, the Target forensic labs
focus most of their work on evidence uncovered
by Target’s investigators.

Case in Point

The Target forensics team recently tested this meticulous process when a string of broken X-Box and PlayStation 3 game consoles were fraudulently returned to retail stores in multiple states.

Working in partnership with U.S. Postal Inspectors, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, and other retailers, Target Investigations and Forensic Services discovered that a ring of criminals was purchasing new game consoles at retail stores, removing the working hard drives, replacing them with broken hardware and counterfeit serial numbers, and returning the malfunctioning systems for a full refund. They then sold the new machines through an online auction site.

To prevent this crime from proliferating, Target investigators worked with law enforcement to covertly purchase suspected stolen game units from the online auction site. Target forensic services then examined the consoles for evidence to connect the crimes, eventually discovering latent fingerprints on the inside of one of the units matching those on a returned console, which strengthened the case against the suspects.

The Target forensic labs often are a key link between
our investigative model and law enforcement prosecution,
since they provide scientific examination of evidence
for Target and its law enforcement partners.


After months of investigative work and evidence examination, the Target team turned over evidence to law enforcement, which allowed them to positively identify and arrest three suspects, charging each with seven felony indictments including mail fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy.

Ultimately, the investigation revealed that the suspects generated more than $1 million in sales through an online auction site.

Latent fingerprint examiners can detect and develop
fingerprints left on evidence and compare them with
those from other crimes affecting Target.

Community Partners Working Together

While much of Target’s forensic work focuses on solving ORC cases, approximately 30 percent of the caseload supports law enforcement through the examination of evidence from violent felony crimes unrelated to Target. The most common crimes supported include homicides and special circumstance cases. Often times, Target’s forensic examiners even provide testimony at criminal trials.

This support is part of a broader commitment by Target to corporate responsibility called Target & BLUE, a program that devotes significant resources to help curb crime in the neighborhoods where our guests and team members live, including the following initiatives:

  • SafeCity, a community partnership program that takes a proactive approach to reducing common urban crimes like shoplifting, auto theft, panhandling, and assault

  • Law enforcement grants to fund equipment, training, and programs that promote safer communities

  • Technical support, investigative tools, and resources such as sting trailers and forensic services

  • National Night Out

In these challenging times, innovative criminal justice agencies and private businesses are moving toward more synergistic, integrated relationships with greater results. Even small partnerships and support from local businesses can have a tremendous impact on law enforcement and community programs that may need funding or other resources to serve the community most effectively.

Target encourages police agencies and businesses across the country to create connections and develop partnerships that strengthen communities. By engaging with local businesses, police agencies can augment resources, further community connections, and enhance neighborhood safety.

For more information about Target investigations or forensic services, contact forensics@target.com. ⒒


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From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVI, no. 9, September 2009. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.








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