AURORA _ The Aurora Premium Outlets are a prime target for thieves looking to fill their car with stolen goods, but local law enforcement are hoping increased security and a crackdown on theft will deter potential criminals.
Portage County Municipal Court Judge Laurie Pittman said she has seen acts of theft on the rise, especially in Aurora, since moving to the Kent Municipal Court, which handles cases from Aurora, Brimfield, Kent, Brady Lake and Kent State University.
And the majority of people committing theft at the outlet stores seem to be coming from the Akron or Cleveland areas.
"It's not the shoplifting kid who puts a pack of bubble gum in his pocket. This is organized, and they're coming in here and stealing hundreds and thousands of dollars worth of merchandise," Lt. Seth Riewaldt of the Aurora Police Department said.
Pittman said the thieves have different methods for stealing goods from the stores. One person might distract a store employee while another person makes off with the loot.
Pittman said she is cracking down on theft and using her sentences as a deterrent to potential criminals.
"I want to send a clear message that these people are not going to come into this county and steal from my constituents," she said. "People are going to go to jail for this, and if I feel it's a theft ring, then I'm going to hit them harder."
Theft is a first-degree misdemeanor which carries a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
The majority of thieves preying on Aurora outlet stores are woman, Pittman said. They drive to the center from outside the county and work together to fill up their vehicle with goods.
In fact, she said there has been only one case this year involving two men working together to steal merchandise from the outlet stores.
Riewaldt said a reason why outlet shopping centers may be a target for theft is because they are open-air shopping areas.
"People can steal items out of a store, drop off the merchandise in a car and then go into another store and do it again," he said. "And that's how people generally shop at outlet centers anyway. They'll buy something, and unlike a mall where they have to carry bags around in one building, they just put it in their car and go to another store."
In Aurora, the shopping center has been likened to a downtown area for the city that fights tooth and nail to preserve its historical value.
Riewaldt said the outlet center is the highest number of stores in one area of the city, which causes the police to respond to many theft calls.
"There is a large concentration of quality merchandise in that area," he said.
As far as security measures at the outlet center, Jean Guinup, region marketing manager for GCA Realty, which owns and operates the outlet center, said it is company policy to not comment on security issues because of the content.
But Pittman said she has heard security is beefed up at the shopping center, and Riewaldt said stores sometimes hire Aurora police to help during special sales.
Another store is set up during peak hours to include a plain-clothes police officer to watch for shoplifters, Riewaldt said.