Shelby County deputies nab serial shoplifters

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SHELBY CO., Tenn. -- A neighborhood crime alert is keeping an undercover unit in the sheriff's office busy.

Deputies said they've caught more than 20 people for theft in the past two weeks.

Many of those people are serial shoplifters.

"Their sole existence is shoplifting," said Assistant Chief Deputy Mark Dunbar. "They travel anywhere from two to five to nine different people."

More organized theft rings have been busted in Shelby County than ever before after the sheriff created something called A.L.E.R.T.

The team spends its day catching the thieves in their tracks whether it's at small stores or malls.

Recently, deputies went undercover in Oak Court Mall and followed two women, both who they say were caught stealing in the stores before.

"They hit 11 different stores in less than an hour and a half and stole about $1,700 worth of merchandise," said Dunbar.

Dunbar said clothes, perfume, electronics, you name it, it's been stolen. It's causing prices to go up for customers.

Dunbar said A.L.E.R.T is also working to catch thieves who strike in neighborhoods.

The SCSO is now requiring deputies, if they see a garage door open or valuables in a car, to knock on your door and warn you.

"We literally beat our heads on the desk trying to get people to understand: do not leave your computers, your purse, your cell phones in plain view," said Dunbar.

A.L.E.R.T was the first of its kind in the country.

Other agencies like Jackson and Nashville started similar programs after they saw theft was down in our county 12.3 percent in the past three years.

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