In addition to using social media and video footage to catch shoplifters, Willowbrook Spirit Shoppe put up a good old-fashioned wanted poster.
Savvy Business Owner Helping Police Track Crooks
CROMWELL - A Cromwell business owner recognized the importance of installing security cameras at his shop and is using video footage and social media to help police track shoplifters who recently hit his store.
With a few flicks of the wrist, Jay Polke, co-owner of Willowbrook Spirit Shoppe, pulls up a video on his phone showing three women entering the liquor store and heading toward the back.
“We had three shoplifters in here; one stayed outside in the car--the getaway car, I guess we’ll call it,” Polke said. “They went to the expensive part where the high-priced tequila is, they grabbed two bottles each, they came up nonchalantly--we were watching them--then all of a sudden, boom they run out the door.”
An employee tried to note the license plate of the vehicle, but it had been covered by green plastic bags.
“Of course, they looked right up into the cameras,” Polke said.
The video shows a clear image of each of the three shoplifters’ faces. With ease, Polke was able to send the video over to Cromwell Police.
“You can email it to the police and they have it in a matter of seconds. Simple stuff,” he said.
Polke went one step further and posted the video on his Facebook account. It was met with an overwhelming response.
“It started out with [my] friends and then friends of friends and then the next thing you know, everybody had it,” he said. “All these calls started coming in to the police, to our store here--we probably had over 200 calls of people that recognized them, so I told them to call the police.”
One of the calls came from another liquor store owner in East Hartford, who recognized the three women as the same trio that had stolen from her store two days later.
“She says it looks like they were even wearing the same clothes,” Polke said.
Cameras captured the shoplifters’ every move, from when they pulled into the parking lot to when they fled. Two television screens prominently displayed in the store show the cameras’ views. With a free app, Polke can watch the video right on his phone, from anywhere. But he didn’t have to spend a fortune, and as a member of the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce, he stresses the importance of having security equipment to other business owners.
“When [security equipment] first came out, it was kind of crude and expensive and you had to deal with tapes and things like that. The new devices they’ve had, especially in the last three or four years, have come a long way--there’s no more tapes, it’s hard drives just like you’d have in the computer,” he said.
With the latest in security equipment, information is easier to retrieve, images are clearer and there are options to alert business owners when cameras capture movement after business hours. Plus, it’s more affordable than ever.
“The systems that used to cost $5,000-6,000 cost $500 now,” Polke said.
Each year, Polke gives Middlesex Chamber members an update and brings in samples from Costco or Sam’s Club.
“Even if you buy a unit that costs you 400 bucks with four cameras, put it in your place. You may never need it, but it’s there,” he said. “And don’t hide the cameras--let everyone see them. We’re not running a covert operation here. You want to use the cameras as the deterrent.”
The cameras also help Polke look out for his employees’ safety.
“I told my employee don’t run after anybody. Let ‘em go, we got ‘em,” he said.
Polke said in his 38 years at Willowbrook, nothing so bold as the recent shoplifting incident has happened. The three women have their own “billboard of shame,” with stills of their faces from the video on a poster board perched right in the entrance to the store, with a message letting the wanted know they’re not welcome back in Cromwell: “Help us find these 3 ugly, low life criminals so we can get them out of our neighborhood.”