Make a call, catch a thief? |

Make a call, catch a thief?

Janet Urquhart

Local retailers who fell victim to a shoplifting spree earlier this month may establish a “phone tree” to spread the word quickly if suspected thieves hit town again.Several merchants voiced support for the idea during their monthly gathering Thursday with downtown catalyst Lisa Baker, who agreed to help organize the effort if merchants are interested.After a man and a woman, possibly working with other individuals, pilfered furs, jewelry and other high-end merchandise from five stores over a three-day period, several retailers complained that police hadn’t alerted them to the activity.The incident has led to calls for a phone tree that would allow retailers to spread the word about shoplifters or suspicious characters. In such a system, a merchant who gets a call is assigned to call a couple of other retailers, who then call others. The message branches out quickly.”I went around town for three hours myself, letting businesses know that had no idea what was going on,” said Mary Catherine Vaughan, owner of B’Jewel. “I would definitely like to see that [phone tree] implemented tomorrow.””It’s a no-brainer,” said Mark Goodman, manager at Mark Richards. He believes the thieves visited his store without taking anything. “If I see people who just don’t seem on the level, if I go quick make three phone calls, and they all make three quick phone calls, all the players are going to know about these people.”Aspen police are continuing to investigate the thefts, according to investigator Chris Womack, who addressed the 25-or-so business people who met yesterday.Police didn’t receive the first report of a theft until Monday evening (Aug. 9), and the thieves apparently left town Tuesday morning, he said.What police didn’t know on Monday was that employees at another store had thwarted the thieves; had they notified authorities, the shoplifters might have been caught, Womack said.”We just don’t want you to be afraid to call us on a situation,” he said.Womack encouraged retailers to make contact with anyone who comes into their store, so potential thieves will know they’ve been seen and could be identified later.”Can the whole store be seen from location? Several locations?” he added. “Can somebody just reach around a corner and take something without one of your employees seeing them?”Womack also urged retailers to obtain information to help them identify the writers of checks, even checks for relatively small amounts. He said he is currently investigating a case of valleywide check fraud; some $4,000 worth of bad checks, all for roughly $25 or $30, were written on one account, Womack said.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is

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