BY M.L. NESTEL
Law enforcement officials across the country are puzzled over a crime wave targeting an unlikely item: Tide laundry detergent.
Theft of Tide detergent has become so rampant that authorities from New York to Oregon are keeping tabs on the soap spree, and some cities are setting up special task forces to stop it. And retailers like CVS are taking special security precautions to lock down the liquid.
One Tide taker in West St. Paul, Minn., made off with $25,000 in the product over 15 months before he was busted last year. “That was unique that he stole so much soap,” said West St. Paul Police Chief Bud Shaver. “The name brand is [all] Tide. Amazing, huh?”
Tide has become a form of currency on the streets. The retail price is steadily high — roughly $10 to $20 a bottle — and it’s a staple in households across socioeconomic classes.
Tide can go for $5 to $10 a bottle on the black market, authorities say. Enterprising laundry soap peddlers even resell bottles to stores.
“There’s no serial numbers and it’s impossible to track,” said Detective Larry Patterson of the Somerset, Ky., Police Department, where authorities have seen a huge spike in Tide theft. “It’s the item to steal.”
Why Tide and not, say, Wisk or All? Police say it’s simply because the Procter & Gamble detergent is the most popular and, with its Day-Glo orange logo, most recognizable of brands.
George Cohen, spokesman for Philadelphia-based Checkpoint Systems, which produces alarms being tested on Tide in CVS stores, said: “Name brands are easier to resell.
“In organized retail crimes they would love to steal the iPad. It’s very easy to sell. Harder to sell the unknown Korean brand.” Most thieves load carts with dozens of bottles, then dash out the door. Many have getaway cars waiting outside.
“These are criminals coming into the store to steal thousands of dollars of merchandise,” said Detective Harrison Sprague of the Prince George’s County, Md., Police Department, where Tide is known as “liquid gold” among officers.
He and other law enforcement officials across the country say Tide theft is connected to the drug trade. In fact, a recent drug sting turned up more Tide that cocaine.
“We sent in an informant to buy drugs. The dealer said, ‘I don’t have drugs, but I could sell you 15 bottles of Tide,’ ” Sprague told The Daily. “Upstairs in the drug dealer’s bedroom was about 14 bottles of Tide laundry soap. We think [users] are trading it for drugs.”
Police in Gresham, Ore., said most Tide theft is perpetrated by “users feeding their habit.”
“They’ll do it right in front of a cop car — buying heroin or methamphetamine with Tide,” said Detective Rick Blake of the Gresham Police Department. “We would see people walking down the road with six, seven bottles of Tide. They were so blatant about it.”
Robyn Cafasso, chief deputy district attorney in Colorado Springs, Colo., said the problem is nothing more than “organized shoplifting” and can be stopped. One method is to toughen punishments for recidivists.
“There’s this old-school thought that this is a shoplift, so it goes into the municipal system,” Cafasso said. “We’re starting to actually get more habitual offenders out of the municipal system and refile charges to make it a more serious offense.”
Cafasso agreed that there’s been a major upswing in Tide theft. “Everybody knows that liquid detergent Tide is an expensive item,” she said.
The pharmacy chain CVS is locking down Tide and other laundry detergents in certain parts of the country alongside flu medication and other commonly stolen items. Joe LaRocca, of the National Retail Federation, said: “It’s a game of cat and mouse. There’s a real balance that takes place between customer service — the product available on the shelf — and securing the merchandise.”