Boise Police Department’s Innovative Way to Tackle Retail Crime

Boise's Police Department uses the SARA model to deter retail crime.

On Thursday, March 20, 2014 - 07:00

As music fans descend on Boise, Idaho this weekend for the 2014 Tree Fort Festival, they might be coming to listen to Minneapolis band Poliça. But they had better not be thinking of shop-lifting their records because the real Boise police are watching. 

In 2005, the crime trends in Boise were shifting. Criminals were turning away from major crimes and focusing on retail crimes in large numbers. Instead of burglaries or robberies, career criminals were focusing on theft and fraud costing area businesses millions of dollars. But the Boise Police Department (BPD) had the answer in the form of an innovative new use for an old tool.

Building Relationships Leads to Safer Streets

For 20 years, the BPD had been using the Scanning, Analysis, Response and Assessment (SARA) model of policing. The SARA model prescribes developing relationships, identifying the problems that citizens care most about and then addressing those issues methodically as a way to improve residents' quality of life. By integrating the policing more closely with the community, police departments are able to focus on things that the people they serve actually care about.

When the BPD started applying the SARA model, typically used for more serious types of crime, to the growing retail theft, they found something interesting. According to Curtis Crum is the Manager of the BPD Special Services Criminal Investigation Unit, there was a distinct connection between these retail thefts and other violent crimes. So reducing the retail problem also wound up getting violent criminals off the streets. 

He says, “Lower prices for consumers and safer streets are the natural outcomes of the program. If this project targets our most active, and sometimes very desperate and dangerous criminals, and we are able to make substantial retail crime cases on them, then they are out of circulation and not able to commit other felonies. [And] many times when we arrest these individuals for theft and fraud, we find weapons, narcotics and fruits from other crimes that enhance their sentences.”

Shrinking Shrinkage

Safer streets aren't the only benefit to the program. Retail stores are notoriously stingy with data on product loss, or “shrinkage,” but Crum says, “Because of the trust we have developed with our retail partners, three major national retailers (all Fortune 500 companies) have provided us with anonymous “shrink rate” information detailing the millions of dollars saved in reduced losses at 28 of their Boise area stores compared to the national average. These retailers experienced $5.5 million, or 41% less, in annual losses within these 28 Boise stores than they would experience on average nationally.” Those savings are eventually passed on to customers in the form of lower prices.

“The program’s success,” Crum says, “is directly attributable to our timely and comprehensive communication network with our retail partners. In just the last month, we have coordinated the capture of several [organized crime] groups with our retail partners, groups who were responsible for millions of dollars in losses to consumers.” That communication is a direct result of the SARA model’s application to the retail sector.

The program was such a big success that it won the BPD a 2013 Community Policing Award from the International Association of Chiefs of Police. The BPD was also selected as the Sears Holding Company’s 2013 Law Enforcement Partner of the Year. Both of these major policing awards show that BPD's work is getting recognized. But more importantly, they’re making the streets (and stores) in Boise safer.