SAN ANTONIO – Its success combating property crimes is getting a temporary unit a permanent spot on the San Antonio Police Department.
San Antonio police says its Fencing Interdiction Team, or FIT, will be grouped under the Repeat Offenders Program beginning in January.
The team works with retailers to help target the people who buy and sell stolen goods for a profit, known as fences, bagging more than 100 arrests and seizing or recovering more than $600,000 worth of stolen goods in the process.
The FIT began as a pilot program in late 2015, and became a crime initiative in 2017, said the unit’s current supervisor, Sgt. Daniel Anders, who is also the property crimes supervisor at the Prue Road substation.
“Due to the continued success FIT had in the organized retail theft market, the Department will make it an ark under the Repeat Offender Program (ROP) unit starting in January 2018,” the department’s public information office wrote in an email to KSAT 12. “This will allow for even more dedication for the Department to continue to target these particular types of thieves.
"It's definitely going to make that type of business and activity a lot harder,” Anders said.
Statistics provided by Anders show that from January 2016 until the beginning of December 2017, the unit made at least 120 arrests, executed 120 warrants, recovered $510,000 in stolen property and seized an additional $100,000 worth of stolen goods.
The FIT aims to slow down theft at large around the city by targeting the fences, who provide an easy way for thieves to turn their ill-gotten goods into cash.
The basic premise is simple enough. Professional shoplifters, known as “boosters,” sell what they’ve stolen to a fence for cheap – perhaps 10 cents on the dollar.
The fence then finds buyers, oftentimes online or on social media, and sells the stolen goods for a markup, but still less than the buyer would pay for it at the store.
Many times, the boosters don’t have the distribution network to turn their stolen goods into cash, Anders said, so they rely on the fence. If the fence isn’t there to pay them, it lessens the incentive to steal.
“You're taking away the fuel that's feeding the fire,” Anders explained.
To get it done, the team works hand-in-hand with retailers to develop intelligence, like identifying who the problem boosters are. From there, the team can target the lower-level thieves and start to work their way up the ladder in the fencing organization.
Rather than stop at a low-level theft arrest, Anders said, investigators can infiltrate a scheme and go after the people higher up the food chain feeding that behavior.
The team often uses undercover officers to set up sales with a fence, using products made to look like they have just been stolen – with anti-theft sensors or in its original packaging. Once they hit the threshold they think they need, the team will arrest the fence and debrief them to see how many layers there are to the organization.
"Or they're part of a larger organization and they're sending that merchandise to another location either outside the county or outside the state who then is selling it on a global market,” Anders said.
The fences have good business acumen. They trade in everything from luxury goods such as purses to cigarettes to laundry detergent, which Anders said is known at a national level as “liquid gold.”
"They know what's hot right now and what's selling on the market,” Anders said. “I mean, it's the market that's driving it."
But now, investigators think they have a good way to tackle the problem, and it will be on a permanent basis.