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'Tis the season: Billings police seek public help in solving retail thefts

Billings Police Department-Crime Prevention Center
Posted at 2:37 PM, Dec 15, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-15 16:37:01-05

BILLINGS — With Christmas quickly approaching, shoplifting is peaking nationwide. In large cities like New York and Los Angeles, shoplifting has increased by more than 60%, according to Business Insider.

In Billings, it’s the same story. Retail workers are seeing thefts almost daily.

According to Capital One Shopping Research, in 2022, Montana retailers lost $298 million due to theft.

At Northside Pawn in Billings, located at 2209 First Ave. N., the workers are trying to bring those numbers down.

The pawn shop has been buying and selling unique Billings goods for 26 years, which brings attention to the store. But not all attention is good.

"We do get a lot of merchandise in and some of the items are not good," said Gary Pulver, the owner of Northside Pawn, on Thursday. "They can be stolen."

Gary Pulver
Gary Pulver

On top of people trying to pawn stolen goods, they also steal from the shop.

"We have items out here. We get stuff stolen," Pulver said. "So it happens.”

Just this year, the shop has helped numerous stolen goods find their rightful owners.

"We have probably recovered at least five or six stolen bikes this year,” Pulver said.

BPD emblem
BPD emblem

But this isn’t just a pawn shop problem—shoplifting numbers nationwide are rising.

According to BPD, in November 2022, 68 reports of shoplifting were recorded. This year, in the same month, that almost doubled to 128.

Many are taking matters into their own hands, assisting officers in their investigations.

"We have a bulletin board, we’ll post your item and we look out for 30 days," Pulver said. “The police can only do so much."

Another retail shop in town, Liberty and Vine, put up a ‘Wall of Shame’ in September, calling out thieves caught on surveillance cameras.

Wall of Shame at Liberty & Vine
Wall of Shame at Liberty & Vine

"I think that the community is kind of coming together because we’ve had enough,” said Tony Nichols, a crime prevention officer for BPD, on Thursday. "I think that everybody probably just wants to be a good witness at this point, and that’s all we’re asking."

Tony Nichols
Tony Nichols

You can make a difference in the community, assisting Billings police in solving crimes.

BPD currently has 27 volunteers. This year alone, those volunteers have donated a total of 3,177 hours.

"We couldn’t ask for better volunteers honestly,” Nichols said.

The Crime Prevention Center Facebook page has recently started posting stills of suspects asking for the public’s help to identify them.

"I think about 70% of the cases that we’ve been posting have been getting solved," Nichols said. "I think I posted five yesterday and I’ve got three of those taken care of already."

So whether you’re keeping an eye out online, or reporting what you witnessed, BPD is grateful for the assistance.

"Be as good of a witness as you can. Get good descriptors on the people, good vehicle description," Nichols said. "Don’t approach these people obviously. Especially in those types of situations. But observe and report."

The department hopes the community will continue to help bring the numbers down.

“We’ve had a lot more volunteers come in recently and be more involved. We appreciate them so much down here," Nichols said. "Whether it’s filing paperwork or tagging abandoned vehicles. It makes our jobs, as police officers, a lot easier. And they’re doing a great job."

To learn more about volunteering with BPD, click here.