Problematic Behavior or Activity
A review of crime statistics in the City of Tigard showed a disparity: The bulk of reported crimes occurred along business corridors and police responded more frequently to areas of the city associated with businesses than to any other section of the community. In addition, cold cases were less likely to be solved and measures were less often taken to reduce the frequency of calls in this segment of the city. Although most police services were being provided in business areas, the majority of funding for these services came from the city’s general fund.
Impact on the Community
Crime affecting businesses has a broad impact on the community as a whole. The losses companies sustain can lead to increased costs to customers, staff reductions, a reluctance to expand operations, and difficulty attracting new businesses to the area. And because the crimes are against companies and not individuals, law enforcement in Tigard have found that the problem is harder to solve and personnel are often hesitant to report these crimes for fear that no one will be held responsible.
The Tigard Police Department believes that its Commercial Crimes Unit (CCU) is unlike any other crime-fighting unit in the United States. It is uniquely funded through the city’s business licensing fees and consists of four full-time police officers (three investigators and a supervisor). The CCU provides dedicated service to local merchants and area businesses to investigate and address the types of crimes that impact their bottom line. The unit investigates substantial losses through theft or fraud, addresses repeat problems through proactive problem-solving projects or target-hardening suggestions, provides workplace safety and active threat trainings, and conducts networking and information-sharing opportunities with its business partners. Part of the Tigard Police Department’s mission is to create the highest level of livability possible; the CCU works with the business community toward that end.
Based on Research
The Tigard Police Department believes that this program is truly groundbreaking. From the way the CCU is funded to the way its officers approach solving problems, Tigard Police Department’s approach is unique. The Chief of Police at the time conceived of the CCU as a way to address a problem area while finding an equitable way to pay for the police services needed. The basis for the CCU’s operations is the foundation of all police work: Officers conduct investigations based on the evidence obtained while leveraging available resources to solve problems. What makes the unit unique is the focus on the business community—the partnerships officers have created allow the CCU to solve crimes that might otherwise be set aside or even unreported.
The CCU is funded entirely through business licensing fees. At the time of the unit’s inception, business licensing fees in Tigard had not changed for 10 years and were among the lowest in the area. By adding tiers based on the number of full-time-equivalent employees and modifying the fee structure slightly, the increased revenue allowed the Tigard Police Department to add staff and establish the CCU with two detectives and one sergeant. In 2015, the department requested and received overwhelming support from the business community to slightly increase the fees, which supported the third detective for the unit.
- The unit conducted a major yearlong investigation into new-construction burglaries. Building on years of experience and extensive contacts in the business community, unit officers investigated and prosecuted a suspect in a large-scale burglary scheme wherein new-home construction sites were regularly being burglarized for new appliances, tools, and equipment. This investigation resulted in the recovery of several trailer loads of new appliances and numerous search warrants being executed. The primary suspect was arrested and more than $100,000 worth of goods was recovered.
- The CCU investigated an alleged theft from a high-end home-goods store, resulting in the seizure of well over $150,000 in stolen property and the pending prosecution of former employees.
- After observing suspicious activity at a local store, a CCU investigation uncovered credit-card fraud in Southern California and revealed the purchase of hundreds of cell phones from the local store; more than 450 cell phones purchased with fraudulent funds were seized, representing over $400,000 in theft.
Critical Success Factors
Networking and partnering with businesses, especially their loss-prevention personnel, when possible, have proved invaluable. The ability to share information and resources is a force multiplier; the effect is much greater than the sum of its parts.
Don’t be afraid to look at the problem for what it is and find creative ways to address it. Be willing to partner with businesses and apply creative solutions to chronic criminal activity that affects them. Think outside the box to find nontraditional revenue streams, but be willing to sell your approach to the stakeholders and listen to their ideas on how to mold it.