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Posted on | June 19, 2013 | No Comments
When San Bernardino police detectives would raid houses to search for drugs the past few years, they couldn’t believe what they kept finding.
“The question started coming up, ‘Why are we seeing so much laundry detergent in so many dope houses?’” Sgt. Travis Walker said.
Strange as it may seem, detergent — specifically liquid Tide and Tide Pods — has become a currency on the black market nationwide. It is traded for drugs or sold far below retail prices at open swap meets and clandestine meetings, law enforcement and retail officials say.
Several factors have combined to turn the product into what some are calling “liquid gold”: The Tide brand is the most popular, even though it is the highest priced; detergent is relatively easy to steal and, unlike electronic items with serial numbers, is difficult to trace; and shoplifting is a relatively low-risk operation compared to other crimes to make a quick buck.
Why is Tide so popular with thieves?
“People refer to it comically like, ‘They’re stealing laundry detergent?’” said Richard Mellor, vice president of loss prevention for the National Retail Federation.
But merchants aren’t laughing.
Walker said one Inland supermarket chain, which he declined to identify, reported each store suffering four to six thefts of Tide per week, with each loss valued at $100 to $400.
The Tide thefts are part of what merchants have told the National Retail Federation is an increase in organized groups stealing for resale many products that people use every day: razors, beauty supplies, allergy medicine.
The Inland Empire Organized Retail Crime Association was created by local retailers, police and prosecutors in 2011 to share information on crime trends and suspect descriptions.
The National Retail Federation lists laundry detergent only behind baby formula as the most-stolen product.
“It’s a hot commodity on the streets,” Riverside police Lt. Dan Hoxmeier said.
And no, the ingredients are not broken down to make drugs, as with some cold medicines that are frequently stolen. People actually buy the stolen Tide to wash clothes.
“Everyone uses laundry detergent,” Mellor said.
A 2009 survey listed Procter & Gamble’s Tide, along with Kraft and Coca-Cola, as the three brands that consumers would never give up no matter how badly the economy tanked.
That loyalty comes at a cost: In a recent check at a Stater Bros. market in Riverside, a 150-ounce bottle of Tide was priced at $17.97, $3 more than the same amount of Gain and $7.20 more than a 150-ounce bottle of All.
Those Tide bottles can be exchanged for $5 cash or $10 worth of marijuana or crack cocaine, according to New York Magazine’s “Suds for Drugs” article, which said the product has received the nickname “liquid gold.”
Sundar Raman, the marketing director of P&G’s North American fabric-care division, told the magazine, “It’s unfortunate that people are stealing Tide, and I don’t think it’s appropriate at all, but the one thing it reminds me of is that the value of the brand has stayed consistent.”
Procter & Gamble officials did not return two phone messages seeking comment.
The scope of the problem is far beyond a single person slipping a bottle or bag of Tide under his arm and sneaking out of a supermarket, big-box store or pharmacy, and it is not limited to Tide.
Rings of thieves cost businesses $30 billion annually, the National Retail Federation estimates.
“This is not shoplifting we’re talking about,” Mellor said in a phone interview from Washington, D.C. “It’s a criminal enterprise to make a significant profit.”
Hoxmeier said a crew will often have three people: a target, lookout and mule. The target identifies the product to be stolen. The lookout makes sure no one is watching and loads the cart, with Tetris-like precision, with detergent, baby formula, razor blades, energy drinks, allergy medicine and beauty products. Sometimes they’ll conceal the bounty with blankets and even children, Hoxmeier said.
The mule will then push the cart right out of the store.
Once obtained, the products often go to middlemen who might have furnished the thieves with shopping lists.
Riverside police Detective Dave Riedeman said some people sell the stolen items out of their homes to neighbors who learn of their availability through word of mouth.
Riedeman’s partner, Detective Lori Blaszak, said stolen women’s beauty products, expensive in stores, are particularly popular on the black market.
Retailers are fighting back, short of putting Tide under lock and key.
Mellor said some merchants shrink-wrap excess inventory on shelves or otherwise make the bottles difficult to reach. Others attach electronic devices that will activate an alarm if they are not removed at the checkout stand.
Merchants, fierce competitors for the customer dollar, also have found success by working together. They compare notes and surveillance photos on who has been stealing and when and where, and forward the information to police.
“There is a collaboration like I’ve never seen before. It’s very refreshing,” Mellor said.
Organized retail crime was a hot topic at a National Retail Federation loss-prevention conference in San Diego this month that Mellor organized. He said he was heartened to see 20 law enforcement agencies represented, including some federal agencies and police from as far away as Florida.
Law enforcement also is gaining awareness of the scope of the problem and is committing more resources, Mellor added.
CVS recently approached Riverside police about its theft problem, Riedeman said.
The result was an operation June 4-5 in which 28 Riverside and San Bernardino officers fanned out to 16 locations and made 38 theft arrests, including 13 for felonies.
Riedeman said the most audacious attempted theft was by a woman who loaded up her cart with car batteries and tried to wheel them out the door.
The undercover plan involved 44 retail employees at CVS, Food 4 Less, Ralphs, Rite Aid, Sam’s Club, Stater Bros., Target, Toys R Us and Walmart stores. A Stater Bros. spokesman declined to discuss thefts from the markets. CVS did not return a call seeking comment.
This was the first such operation for Riverside police, Blaszak said.
“Usually we’re just coming in from behind. Part of the goal is to be proactive,” she said.
The big prize was not the thieves themselves, but the identity of those, known as fences, who would have received the stolen goods, Riedeman said.
“We’re going to continue to do operations like this,” Riedeman added. “Hopefully the same way the word got out that you can go out and steal whatever you want, we want to make it so you’re not so comfortable that you can go out and steal.”
Posted on | June 18, 2013 | No Comments
Video shows Justin Bieber running into a photographer with his white Ferrari in Hollywood, but police say there was no crime and the injuries aren’t life-threatening.
Lt. Craig Valenzuela says Bieber’s car collided with the person at 11:45 p.m. Monday on Sunset Boulevard.
Valenzuela says nobody was cited or arrested and officers determined no crime was committed. He says investigators are trying to determine whether the pedestrian was in the roadway.
A video posted by TMZ.com shows Bieber getting into a Ferrari. He’s surrounded by paparazzi and as the car drives off, one falls to the ground and grips his knee.
A request for comment from Bieber’s publicist, Melissa Victor, was not immediately returned.
Posted on | June 18, 2013 | No Comments
Scores of additional homes have been evacuated, as firefighters continue to battle a wildfire near the main route into Yosemite National Park in the Sierra foothills.
State fire spokesman Daniel Berlant on Tuesday morning estimated the number of additional homes evacuated the previous evening at a couple of hundred although he said he did not have an exact number. That’s in addition to 150 homes evacuated since the fire began on Sunday.
Berlant said hundreds of additional firefighters were called in overnight to help with the blaze, which has burned 2 and ½ square miles and remains 15 percent contained.
No structures have been damaged or destroyed. One firefighter suffered a minor injury.
Highway 140 into Yosemite National Park remains open.
Posted on | June 17, 2013 | No Comments
Miss Utah Marissa Powell is the latest beauty queen to trip on national television, not over her gown, but during the interview segment.
Asked about income inequality at the Miss USA pageant in Las Vegas Sunday night, the 21-year-old Salt Lake City resident gave a rambling, awkwardly-worded answer that included several long pauses and the phrase “create education better.”
The cringe-inducing response was getting lots of buzz Monday. As a video of the episode racked up hundreds of thousands of views, pageant co-owner Donald Trump scolded the haters on Twitter, saying anyone can lose their train of thought.
The question was a bit of a head scratcher itself.
“A recent report shows that in 40 percent of American families with children, women are the primary earners, yet they continue to earn less than men. What does this say about society?” asked NeNe Leakes of the reality series “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.”
Undaunted by the three-in-one prompt, Powell started off strong:
“I think we can relate this back to education, and how we are continuing to try to strive … to …,” she said, before appearing to lose her way.
She picked up after a long pause: “… figure out how to create jobs right now. That is the biggest problem. And I think, especially the men are … seen as the leaders of this, and so we need to see how to . create education better. So that we can solve this problem. Thank you.”
Despite the stammering answer, she came in third runner-up.
Miss Utah, who was trending on Twitter a day after her flub, was keeping quiet amid the fallout.
But she did have this to say on her Miss USA page, “It’s not all about winning. It’s about examining yourself, improving and striving to showcase your individuality.”
Posted on | June 17, 2013 | No Comments
Dubbed the Carstens Fire, a wildfire is burning less than 40 miles from Yosemite National Park.
Cal Fire says 150 homes in the area, off Carstens Road, have been evacuated. Several roads nearby are also closed off.
Video of the blaze can be seen above.
As of 2 p.m. Monday, the fire had burned 900 acres and was only 15 percent contained just 24 hours after it started.
In all, more than 700 firefighters are at the scene.
Mariposa County declared a state of local emergency Monday afternoon.
Posted on | June 16, 2013 | No Comments
Another annual Lumber Jubilee is over with in Tuolumne City. Healthy crowds were out on Father’s Day to witness four hours of lumber competition before the tug-o-war. Here’s George Laszlo competing with a chainsaw:
Posted on | June 12, 2013 | No Comments
The video is bizarre by any standards.
In it, a glistening man with a wild head of hair turns fare gates into balance beams at a San Francisco BART station, stretching and doing back flips buck-naked.
Commuters flee for dear life as he dashes across the station, attacking people at random. Whimpering, they run for cover in a station agent’s booth.
The incident took place at a BART station in May — but the cellphone-shot footage was posted online Tuesday.
And as such videos go, it went viral — quick.
“It happened over a month ago,” said Alicia Trost, a spokeswoman for the Bay Area Rapid Transit, which operates the route . “This is the first time anyone has seen video.”
It took seven minutes for police to arrive after a station agent called for help, she said.
“Police, hurry up and get here, please,” a woman is heard muttering in the video as the man runs amok.
Authorities arrested the man, 24-year-old Yeiner Perez, for attacking a passenger and a transit employee, and took him to a hospital for a psychiatric evaluation.
After that he was released.
Police charged him with misdemeanor battery.
Also, Trost added, “We’re requesting an order from the district attorney to keep him off BART property.”
Posted on | June 10, 2013 | No Comments
The Sacramento Zoo uploaded new video of their new baby Sumatran Tiger, CJ.
In the video, CJ is playing with a the trunk of a palm tree and chasing his mom around.
The Sacramento Zoo said in their blog Monday that crews are getting the tiger exhibit ready for CJ’s debut sometime within the week.
Posted on | June 10, 2013 | No Comments
Congratulations to all of the Mother Lode classes of 2013! Here is Connections Academy Graduate Kristen Turner speaking at Summerville’s Ceremony on Thorsted Field just two weeks ago:
Posted on | June 6, 2013 | No Comments
A leaked document has laid bare the monumental scope of the government’s surveillance of Americans’ phone records — hundreds of millions of calls — in the first hard evidence of a massive data collection program aimed at combating terrorism under powers granted by Congress after the 9/11 attacks.
At issue is a court order, first disclosed Wednesday by The Guardian newspaper in Britain, that requires the communications company Verizon to turn over on an “ongoing, daily basis” the records of all landline and mobile telephone calls of its customers, both within the U.S. and between the U.S. and other countries. Intelligence experts said the government, though not listening in on calls, would be looking for patterns that could lead to terrorists — and that there was every reason to believe similar orders were in place for other phone companies.
Some critics in Congress, as well as civil liberties advocates, declared that the sweeping nature of the National Security Agency program represented an unwarranted intrusion into Americans’ private lives. But a number of lawmakers, including some Republicans who normally jump at the chance to criticize the Obama administration, lauded the program’s effectiveness. Leaders of the House Intelligence Committee said the program had helped thwart at least one attempted terrorist attack in the United States, “possibly saving American lives.”
Separately, The Washington Post and The Guardian reported Thursday the existence of another program used by the NSA and FBI that scours the nation’s main Internet companies, extracting audio, video, photographs, emails, documents and connection logs to help analysts track a person’s movements and contacts. It was not clear whether the program, called PRISM, targets known suspects or broadly collects data from other Americans.
The companies include Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple. The Post said PalTalk has had numerous posts about the Arab Spring and the Syrian civil war. It also said Dropbox would soon be included.
One outraged senator, Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said of the phone-records collecting: “When law-abiding Americans make phone calls, who they call, when they call and where they call is private information. As a result of the discussion that came to light today, now we’re going to have a real debate.”
But Republican Lindsay Graham of South Carolina said Americans have no cause for concern. “If you’re not getting a call from a terrorist organization, you’ve got nothing to worry about,” he said.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said the order was a three-month renewal of an ongoing practice that is supervised by federal judges who balance efforts to protect the country from terror attacks against the need to safeguard Americans’ privacy. The surveillance powers are granted under the post-9/11 Patriot Act, which was renewed in 2006 and again in 2011.
While the scale of the program might not have been news to some congressional leaders, the disclosure offered a public glimpse into a program whose breadth is not widely understood. Sen. Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat who serves on the Intelligence Committee, said it was the type of surveillance that “I have long said would shock the public if they knew about it.”
The government has hardly been forthcoming.
Wyden released a video of himself pressing Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on the matter during a Senate hearing in March.
“Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Wyden asked.
“No, sir,” Clapper answered.
“It does not?” Wyden pressed.
Clapper quickly softened his answer. “Not wittingly,” he said. “There are cases where they could, inadvertently perhaps, collect — but not wittingly.”
There was no immediate comment from Clapper’s office Thursday on his testimony in March.
The public is now on notice that the government has been collecting data — even if not listening to the conversations — on every phone call every American makes, a program that has operated in the shadows for years, under President George W. Bush, and continued by President Barack Obama.
“It is very likely that business records orders like this exist for every major American telecommunication company, meaning that if you make calls in the United States the NSA has those records,” wrote Cindy Cohn, general counsel of the nonprofit digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation, and staff attorney Mark Rumold, in a blog post.
Without confirming the authenticity of the court order, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said such surveillance powers are “a critical tool in protecting the nation from terror threats,” by helping officials determine if people in the U.S. who may have been engaged in terrorist activities have been in touch with other known or suspected terrorists.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., stressed that phone records are collected under court orders that are approved by the Senate and House Intelligence committees and regularly reviewed.
And Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada played down the significance of the revelation.
“Everyone should just calm down and understand that this isn’t anything that’s brand new,” he said. “This is a program that’s been in effect for seven years, as I recall. It’s a program that has worked to prevent not all terrorism but certainly the vast, vast majority. Now is the program perfect? Of course not.”
But privacy advocates said the scope of the program was indefensible.
“This confirms our worst fears,” said Alexander Abdo, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project. “If the government can track who we call,” he said, “the right to privacy has not just been compromised — it has been defeated.”
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who sponsored the USA Patriot Act that governs the collection, said he was “extremely troubled by the FBI’s interpretation of this legislation.”
Attorney General Eric Holder sidestepped questions about the issue during an appearance before a Senate subcommittee, offering instead to discuss it at a classified session that several senators said they would arrange.
House Speaker John Boehner called on Obama to explain why the program is necessary.
It would “be helpful if they’d come forward with the details here,” he said.
The disclosure comes at a particularly inopportune time for the Obama administration. The president already faces questions over the Internal Revenue Service’s improper targeting of conservative groups, the seizure of journalists’ phone records in an investigation into who leaked information to the media, and the administration’s handling of the terrorist attack in Libya that left four Americans dead.
At a minimum, it’s all a distraction as the president tries to tackle big issues like immigration reform and taxes. And it could serve to erode trust in Obama as he tries to advance his second-term agenda and cement his presidential legacy.
The Verizon order, granted by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on April 25 and good until July 19, requires information on the phone numbers of both parties on a call, as well as call time and duration, and unique identifiers, according to The Guardian.
It does not authorize snooping into the content of phone calls. But with millions of phone records in hand, the NSA’s computers can analyze them for patterns, spot unusual behavior and identify “communities of interest” — networks of people in contact with targets or suspicious phone numbers overseas.
Once the government has zeroed in on numbers that it believes are tied to terrorism or foreign governments, it can go back to the court with a wiretap request. That allows the government to monitor the calls in real time, record them and store them indefinitely.
Rogers said once the data has been collected, officials still must follow “a court-approved method and a series of checks and balances to even make the query on a particular number.”
But Jim Harper, a communications and privacy expert at the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute, questioned the effectiveness of pattern analyses to intercept terrorism. He said that kind of analysis would produce many false positives and give the government access to intricate data about people’s calling habits.
Verizon Executive Vice President and General Counsel Randy Milch, in a blog post, said the company isn’t allowed to comment on any such court order.
“Verizon continually takes steps to safeguard its customers’ privacy,” he wrote. “Nevertheless, the law authorizes the federal courts to order a company to provide information in certain circumstances, and if Verizon were to receive such an order, we would be required to comply.”
The company listed 121 million customers in its first-quarter earnings report this April — 98.9 million wireless customers, 11.7 million residential phone lines and about 10 million commercial lines.
The NSA had no immediate comment. The agency is sensitive to perceptions that it might be spying on Americans. It distributes a brochure that pledges the agency “is unwavering in its respect for U.S. laws and Americans’ civil liberties — and its commitment to accountability.”
Under Bush, the NSA built a highly classified wiretapping program to monitor emails and phone calls worldwide. The full details of that program remain unknown, but one aspect was to monitor massive numbers of incoming and outgoing U.S. calls to look for suspicious patterns, said an official familiar with the program. That official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss it publicly.
After The New York Times revealed the existence of that wiretapping program, the data collection continued under the Patriot Act, the official said. The official did not know if the program was continuous or whether it stopped and restarted at times.
The FISA court order, signed by Judge Roger Vinson, compelled Verizon to provide the NSA with electronic copies of “all call detail records or telephony metadata created by Verizon for communications between the United States and abroad” or “wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls,” The Guardian said.
The law on which the order explicitly relies is the “business records” provision of the Patriot Act.keep looking »