NORFOLK, Va. — It’s a crime digging deep into the pockets of taxpayers. Thieves are stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of liquor from Virginia ABC stores.
Some of the hardest-hit stores are in Hampton Roads.
But while the numbers show thieves thirsting for government goods, their binge could soon end.
"These are not, you know, criminal geniuses at work by any means,” MPO Allen Perry, a community liaison with VBPD, said.
Allen Perry, a master police officer with Virginia Beach, said these aren't elaborate heists. In many cases, surveillance captures people just grabbing bottles and walking out without paying.
But it all adds up, and the numbers are surging.
How often do ABC thefts happen in Hampton Roads?
10% of all thefts this year in Virginia Beach are happening at ABC stores. In 2020, it was just 4%.
"I mean that's a big percentage, so that's a major concern for us and we want to stem that tide,” MPO Perry said.
It's more like a tidal wave of thefts engulfing the entire state.
In January, 13News Now filed a public records request seeking a list of all known shoplifting incidents from June to December 2022 at Virginia ABC stores. We asked for a detailed breakdown to include dates, store locations, what was stolen, and the estimated financial loss.
We crunched the numbers and found thieves stole $576,166 worth of liquor during the second half of last year.
Approximately two-thirds of that, or $337,133, was stolen across 930 different incidents from stores in Hampton Roads.
During the time period we reviewed, the following ABC locations had the most shoplifting incidents in their respective cities:
- Richmond – 521 Hull St (153x)
- Portsmouth – 1136 London Blvd (78x)
- Norfolk – 159 West Ocean View Ave (47x)
- Chesapeake – 1103 South Military Hwy (45x)
- Hampton – 1118-A West Mercury Blvd (41x)
- Newport News – 309-A Oyster Point Rd (34x)
- Virginia Beach – 4334 Holland Rd (26x)
- Suffolk – 5911 Harbour View Blvd (11x)
Mark Dunham with Virginia ABC said they recognize the problem and are working to fix it with the help of local police.
"We have to do it together because one entity working by itself is not going to resolve this issue," Dunham said. "We're working with local law enforcement to work with them to put together joint operations in our stores."
How could Virginia ABC address the problem?
Three weeks after we filed a public records request seeking shoplifting numbers, Virginia ABC began taking inventory of every store on February 24.
Their discovery led to this five-page plan to "identify and address" what it calls "retail shrink." The plan includes lowering inventory, adding more cameras, adding personnel, and working more closely with local police.
We asked if Virginia ABC would consider hiring private security for some of the locations that have a large number of thefts.
But for now, that option is not on the table.
“With private security, that hasn’t been an avenue we’ve sought. Because with that as well, you’re going to have engagement. And that engagement really concerns us because it’s not a healthy interaction to put safety at risk," Dunham explained.
MPO Perry agreed with that sentiment.
"You know, a bottle of tequila versus an employee’s health or safety, it's just not worth it," MPO Perry said.
Instead, MPO Perry said they're working to make stores harder to steal from, while still going after alleged shoplifters.
He said he worked with ABC officials on employee training and improving store layout. In some cases, moving a computer just a few inches on a counter can give an employee a better angle of view into the store.
As for making arrests, Virginia Beach detectives recently charged one woman with stealing more than $11,500 dollars’ worth of liquor during 29 different visits to ABCs. Detectives said she spread her stealing spree across 9 different ABC stores.
“We’re looking for them, we’re going to do more and more to find them," MPO Perry said. "When we get you, we're going to make sure everyone knows we got you."
Virginia ABC hopes more cameras, more clerks and more cops will help put a cap on liquor looters.