Task force created to fight retail theft during the holiday shopping season

BATON ROUGE — Local and federal law enforcement officials are coming together to provide shoppers a higher sense of security this holiday shopping season.

A press conference was held Wednesday to announce the launch of a law enforcement operation targeting organized retail crime in the Baton Rouge area during the holiday shopping season.

Homeland Security Investigations, the principal investigative branch of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, is leading the charge along with the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office, Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office, Gonzales Police Department, East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office, and Baton Rouge Police Department.

Operation Sleigh Ride will combat retail crime across the capital region between Black Friday and the end of the holiday shopping season.

“During this campaign, shoppers may notice increased law enforcement presence at retail hubs across the capital region,” said Adam Parks with HSI Baton Rouge. “But most importantly, those whose plans this holiday season involve theft or other retail crimes should expect to face consequences, such as arrest and prosecution.”

The operation is the first public action by the newly formed Louisiana Organized Retail Crime Task Force based in Baton Rouge.

U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Louisiana Ronald Gathe was in attendance Wednesday. He said the goal is to share resources with other agents to help deter the crimes and bring attention to them.

“We’re all here to share our resources and make sure that we’ve worked as a group and try to put a deterrence to a crime that is often overlooked that people don’t like to pay a lot of attention to, but today we’re putting attention on it,” Gathe said. “While it may be a financial crime, people think that they can just pay restitution and everything will be okay. Those days are long gone. It’s not going to be any more just paying restitution. Jail time will be issued in cases like this. This organized retail crime is something that is hitting the nation, and it has to be put to a stop.”

Ascension Parish Sheriff Bobby Webre and Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard each expressed the need for the newly formed task force. Each parish has major retail areas that get hit hard by theft.

“Having the resources of the federal government working with you hand in hand, we can really make a difference,” Weber said. “What’s exciting to hear our U.S. attorney said they will actively and aggressively prosecute these cases. If you’re here to commit these organized retail thefts in our parish or other parishes, we expect to find you. We expect that we’re going to arrest you and put you in jail, and now we have the confidence that they’re going to be prosecuted in court and go to jail for however long the judge thinks is necessary.”

“There’s a lot of times with these retail crimes that the retailer maybe hasn’t even called us because it was just a piece of bubblegum or a small item. Call us,” Ard said. “We need to know that because that little bitty thing could be something really big. We need to work together, and we need to be able to stop the issue that is continuing to grow across our nation and is now affecting us all locally.”

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