BATON ROUGE, La. — Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Baton Rouge and local law enforcement agencies announced the start of Operation Sleigh Ride, an HSI-led law enforcement operation targeting organized retail crime at major shopping centers in the Baton Rouge metropolitan area Nov. 22.
The targeted operation increases law enforcement presence in major shopping areas in and around Baton Rouge from Black Friday through the holiday shopping season. The campaign has direct support from the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office, the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office, the Gonzales Police Department, the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office, the Baton Rouge Police Department and the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Louisiana. It is being conducted under the joint auspices of the Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas Organized Retail Crime Alliance and the HSI-led Louisiana Organized Retail Crime Task Force.
“During the campaign, shoppers may notice increased law enforcement presence at retail hubs across the region. Our goal with Operation Sleigh Ride is deterrence and to catch those who seek to commit retail crime,” said HSI Baton Rouge Assistant Special Agent in Charge Adam Parks. “This is not a victimless crime. There are real and lasting impacts from loss of tax revenue, impacts to public safety, higher prices for consumers and lost jobs. HSI is proud to partner with our local law enforcement agencies and the retail industry to fight this growing problem.”
Organized retail crime is a daily occurrence covered by most major news channels across the United States. High profile “smash-and-grab” robberies involving major retailers in many urban areas and other sophisticated criminal schemes are only some of the various crimes that characterize organized retail crime. This type of crime is a low-risk, high-reward income stream for transnational criminal organizations that amounts to nearly $70 billion in illicit proceeds annually. These crimes present a significant financial and public safety risk.
In July 2023, HSI New Orleans announced a new multistate collaboration designed to combat organized theft groups by targeting domestic and transnational criminal organizations that profit from organized retail crime. The new Organized Retail Crime Alliance connects federal, state and local law enforcement with prosecutors and financial and retail industry partners from Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama.
According to a 2021 joint report released by the Retail Industry Leaders Association and the Buy Safe America Coalition, in 2019, criminals stole nearly $70 billion in goods from retailers. That number doesn’t account for loss related to cargo theft or the uptick in organized retail crime during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In fiscal year 2021, HSI initiated 59 organized retail crime investigations, representing a 211% increase from 19 investigations initiated in the previous year and accounting for 61 criminal arrests; 55 indictments; 59 cases initiated; and $9,287,757 in assets seized. Criminals often use e-commerce platforms to re-sell stolen merchandise. Organized retail crime results in $125.7 billion in lost economic activity.
HSI’s partnerships with private industry groups, such as the Coalition of Law Enforcement and Retail, the National Retail Federation, the Retail Industry Leaders Association, the Transported Asset Protection Association and others remain an imperative component to the overarching success of efforts to counter organized theft groups, systematically disrupting interstate and foreign commerce.
HSI is the principal investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’ largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.