DESTIN, Fla. (WKRG) — In Okaloosa County, law enforcement officials say they’re dealing with a big problem: organized retail theft rings.
Groups are traveling to Destin from Mobile, New Orleans and other cities and stealing thousands of dollars worth of merchandise from several stores.
“They’re utilizing I-10 as a corridor,” Deputy Shane Bininger said. “They’re using 98 going up and down hitting stores. Pensacola all the way down as far as you can think of…Panama City.”
Deputy Bininger is leading an effort to combat the problem. The Florida Retail Federation recognized him as a runner-up Law Enforcement Officer of the Year.
“He’s made a huge impact not just in the arrests that he’s made but in training others to recognize it and be able to make arrests,” Captain Jason Fulghum said.
Bininger helped establish a real-time information-sharing network with local and regional businesses.
“Retailers have to communicate outside their box,” he said.
As soon as a group leaves one store, suspect information can be quickly shared to other stores nearby so they can be on the lookout.
“He’s also able to access that,” Fulghum said. “In addition to that, he’s done training with deputies to show them what to look for.”
This year in Okaloosa County, about $53,000 worth of items have been stolen by organized groups. There’s been about $18,000 in retail thefts in the past month.
“I think by coaching and mentoring these different stores, these loss prevention teams, other deputies, other law enforcement agencies regarding the problem that we have, that’s what’s really bringing it together,” Bininger said.
Okaloosa County has made 11 arrests in the past year and more are coming as 19 warrants have been applied for.