Grime Wave? Rising Tide?
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. â€œThat was unique that he stole so much soap,â€ said West St. Paul Police Chief Bud Shaver. â€œThe name brand is [all] Tide. Amazing, huh?â€
Tide has become a form of currency on the streets. The retail price is steadily high â€” roughly $10 to $20 a bottle â€” and itâ€™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.
â€œThereâ€™s no serial numbers and itâ€™s impossible to track,â€ said Detective Larry Patterson of the Somerset, Ky., Police Department, where authorities have seen a huge spike in Tide theft. â€œItâ€™s the item to steal.â€
Why Tide and not, say, Wisk or All? Police say itâ€™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: â€œName brands are easier to resell. â€œIn organized retail crimes they would love to steal the iPad. Itâ€™s very easy to sell. Harder to sell the unknown Korean brand.â€
Most thieves load carts with dozens of bottles, then dash out the door. Many have getaway cars waiting outside.
â€œThese are criminals coming into the store to steal thousands of dollars of merchandise,â€ said Detective Harrison Sprague of the Prince Georgeâ€™s County, Md., Police Department, where Tide is known as â€œliquid goldâ€ 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.
â€œWe sent in an informant to buy drugs. The dealer said, â€˜I donâ€™t have drugs, but I could sell you 15 bottles of Tide,â€™ â€ Sprague told The Daily. â€œUpstairs in the drug dealerâ€™s bedroom was about 14 bottles of Tide laundry soap. We think [users] are trading it for drugs.â€
Police in Gresham, Ore., said most Tide theft is perpetrated by â€œusers feeding their habit.â€
â€œTheyâ€™ll do it right in front of a cop car â€” buying heroin or methamphetamine with Tide,â€ said Detective Rick Blake of the Gresham Police Department. â€œWe would see people walking down the road with six, seven bottles of Tide. They were so blatant about it.â€
Robyn Cafasso, chief deputy district attorney in Colorado Springs, Colo., said the problem is nothing more than â€œorganized shopliftingâ€ and can be stopped. One method is to toughen punishments for recidivists.
â€œThereâ€™s this old-school thought that this is a shoplift, so it goes into the municipal system,â€ Cafasso said. â€œWeâ€™re starting to actually get more habitual offenders out of the municipal system and refile charges to make it a more serious offense.â€
Cafasso agreed that thereâ€™s been a major upswing in Tide theft.
â€œEverybody knows that liquid detergent Tide is an expensive item,â€ 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: â€œItâ€™s a game of cat and mouse. Thereâ€™s a real balance that takes place between customer service â€” the product available on the shelf â€” and securing the merchandise.â€
Officials at Tide are trying to keep their hands clean.
â€œWe donâ€™t have any insight as to why the phenomenon is happening, but it is certainly unfortunate,â€ said Sarah Pasquinucci, a spokeswoman for Procter & Gamble.