‘Operation Elf on the Shelf’ aims to stop shoplifters in Manatee County

FILE - In this July 27, 2015, photo, Giulia Pugliese, 15, right, shops for clothes with friends at Roosevelt Field shopping mall in Garden City, N.Y. The Conference Board releases its October index on U.S. consumer confidence on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office is taking inspiration from a popular children’s Christmas tradition. They’re borrowing ideas from “Elf on the Shelf” to deter crime this holiday season.

“Elf on the Shelf” provides a helpful service to Santa each year, looking out for misbehaving children.

But grownups can misbehave too and they should also be monitored!

The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office knows this too well. So far this year, the county has seen nearly 600 reported cases of shoplifting.

“Just the other day, I forget where I was with my girlfriend, she says, ‘I just saw a lady shoplift something!’ I said, ‘Did you tell somebody?’” said shopper Donna Reilly.

“‘We get a lot of organized groups that come out of county into our county and they take advantage of our stores,” said MCSO Sgt. Julio Jordan-Escalona.

Sgt. Jordan-Escalona says many loss prevention officers are taught to be non-confrontational. So shoplifters take advantage of that.

“They come over into the store, they don’t care if they have a loss prevention officer, or even if the people that work in the store are looking at them. They just grab the stuff, put it on their back and take off running,” said Sgt. Jordan-Escalona.

So deputies came up with “Operation Elf On The Shelf.” Throughout the holiday shopping season, numerous deputies will go undercover in plain clothes at malls, stores and retail outlets.

They hope their presence can deter shoplifters. They are everywhere.

Kathy Pidock used to work in retail and dealt with shoplifters all the time.

“Shoes, they would put the new pair that they liked on and leave the old pair in the box,” recalled Pidock. “That’s how come the prices rise in the stores every year because of the stealing that people do, it hurts everybody.”

Deputies are giving shoppers the gift of peace of mind, and they’ll give these shoplifters the gift of jail time.

“You’re not gonna catch ’em all but you can catch one or two, which helps out more than anything,” said Pidock.

The operation will run through December. If a person is caught stealing more than $300 worth of merchandise, they could be charged with a felony.

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