The owners of Ahwatukee Foothills' two Ace Hardware stores say they've been hit by an organized ring of shoplifters, but Phoenix police have been unresponsive to their pleas for help.
"They don't try to hide their faces at all," said Jim Wennersten, owner of Ace Hardware and Rental, 4730 E. Warner Road, which was hit in May and June. "They know there are cameras. They're just not worried. They know the police aren't going to chase them."
Sgt. Frank Matsko, Phoenix Police Department spokesman, said the department considers the thefts to be shoplifting crimes with low priority.
"They usually want to hit an area and then move because they don't want to get caught," he said.
The scam works like this: Two men enter the store when its busy and begin to load up a shopping cart with a range of building equipment, including high-end electrical tools like drills and saws, said Lindy Cash, who with husband Kevin has owned Foothills Ace Hardware, 1335 E. Chandler Blvd., for about four years.
"They work in teams. They come in like they're professional contractors," Lindy Cash said.
One man distracts the clerk by fumbling around during payment, then saying he has to get his wallet out of his car. While he's gone, the clerk begins to help the other customers who have begun to line up behind, she said.
With the clerk distracted, the man with the cart makes his way to the door unnoticed. The thieves quickly load up their car, driven by a third person, with the loot, and make a quick get-away before employees can react.
"They pretty well disguised what they were doing until the very end," Cash said.
She said the thieves got away with nearly $500 worth of merchandise when they hit her store in early June. The men appeared to be in their mid-20's to early 30's, driving a gold Saturn, she said.
Kevin Cash said such thefts take a toll on the business.
"It cost us a big chunk of change to replace it," he said. "A $460 ticket is huge."
Lindy said that the Phoenix police officer who responded to employees' 911 call refused to accept security photos of the suspects and was dismissive when told of identical thefts at Wennersten's store.
"She said, ‘These (photos) really aren't valuable to us. We need our own video," Lindy said.
Wennersten said his experience with the police was similar, with the responding officer declining to accept the security photos, saying the department required a CD of the video.
He said he provided a copy of the video to police several weeks ago, but since has heard nothing.
Matsko said it would be up to detectives to decide whether to pursue the ring. However, the allegations that police failed to accept photos of the suspects raise questions.
"If there's an officer not willing to collect evidence, I'd definitely be interested in that," Matsko said.
He advised businesses to improve their own security to prevent thefts.
"If the clerk involved feels uncomfortable, they should notify the manager to keep on eye on suspicious activity," Matsko said. "If they see anything suspicious, don't wait for the crime to happen to call us."
Lindy Cash said she's posted photos of the thieves around her store and is retraining her staff to better handle security. She said she hasn't heard from police in six weeks.
"Compared to a murder, this isn't big stuff. But what are they there for if they're not going to be supportive?" she said.