Local businesses use Facebook to catch robbers

If recent weeks are indicative of a trend, Facebook may be local stores’ new secret weapon in deterring potential robbers.

Local stores that experienced robberies in the past two weeks have begun to aid police efforts by posting pictures from their surveillance cameras on Facebook and asking for tips and information from the public. The Blossom Shop on Orange Street, for instance, posted photos of a break-in and received tips almost immediately. Theirs and others’ success has other shopkeepers considering Facebook as a new crime-busting tool.

“We put his picture on Facebook and within 15 minutes, we got a response with his address and stuff about the criminal’s history, like how he’s been in jail before,” said John Loricco, the owner of Blossom Shop. “That response actually put the nail in the coffin, and the police have taken him in for questioning.”

The Blossom Shop was robbed on March 12, when a man kicked in the door and stole the cash register when the store was closed.

Blossom Shop’s owner explained that putting images of robbers online enabled anyone on Facebook to contribute information about the criminal. Originally, he had decided to put the robber’s picture on posters and have neighboring businesses post them, but one of his employees suggested using Facebook instead.

After a similar break-in at East Rock Pharmacy last week, owner Daniel Tavares said he would consider putting up photos from his surveillance cameras on Facebook, and would talk to the police about it.

“Putting up his picture might bring a lot of publicity to what happened and allow a lot of people to see the person’s face,” said Tavares.

Employees of both stores said they improved security since the robberies by installing new doors and surveillance systems and by finding a safe place for their money at night.

Five store owners from shops on Chapel and Orange streets said it is important to find ways to combat crime and discourage people from stealing, as shoplifting is an inevitable and potentially costly fact of running a business.

“We have lots of attempted shoplifting, but most shoplifters don’t realize that we have security systems,” said Sergio Berardelli, owner of Celtica Specialty Gift Shop on Chapel Street. “The police then get here within minutes, and they’ve been great.”

Jakob Nyberg, the store manager at Urban Outfitters on Broadway, agreed that the police are very helpful in dealing with shoplifting when they arrive at the scene, though at times they arrive too late to catch a robber. He said the police can arrive anywhere from immediately to 20 minutes after the store catches a shoplifter.

Nyberg said Urban Outfitters relies less on technology and more on its employees, who he said are constantly around and aware of the store’s customers. Employees learn how to spot shoplifters in their stores by becoming familiar with the kinds of behaviors they typically exhibit, he added.

But when asked whether his store would use methods involving posting surveillance camera pictures online to combat shoplifting, Nyberg was skeptical, and said he thought only actors within the justice system had the legal right to post these pictures.

“That doesn’t even sound legal to me, so I can’t imagine that we would do something like that from a legal standpoint,” Nyberg said. “I don’t know the ins and outs of the law, but I can’t imagine putting up pictures of people before they’ve been prosecuted. As a business, you could be sued for all sorts of things.”

But New Haven Police Department spokesman David Hartman said distributing photographs of suspects can improve the rate at which police apprehend thieves. By reaching out to community members and neighborhood officers who may have witnessed a particular incident, the department gets “more eyes” to help solve crimes, he explained.

Phylis Satin, owner of Wave Gallery on Chapel Street, said she had never thought about using this method and was not immediately sure how she felt and whether she was comfortable with the idea.

“If somebody’s doing something wrong, and there’s a technological way you can be caught without anybody getting hurt, I guess that sounds like something good,” she concluded.

According to the New Haven Independent’s Crime Log, there were 39 incidents of shoplifting in New Haven in February.

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