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Bill That Targets Shoplifting Gangs Has Broad Support From Lawmakers

DENVER (CBS4) - They call it shoplifting on steroids in retail circles as gangs of thieves have turned shoplifting from petty crime to organized crime.

"These are gangs that are coming into our stores and costing our state $500 million a year in product," Chris Howes said.

Howes, head of the Colorado Retail Council, says the crooks are sophisticated, making off with thousands of dollars of merchandise in minutes.

"(They) knock off one store after another and go right down the highway," Howes said.

Their haul usually involves small items that are high-end, such as face cleansers, hair products, lotions and razors.

Earlier this year CBS4 reported on a group that hit a Target and Walmart using pepper spray on security guards.

Howes says they're becoming more zealous and dangerous.

"We've had people stabbed in the face," Howes said.

Republican Rep. Mark Barker, a former police officer and district attorney, is behind a bill that would crack down on the criminals.

The bill would allow police to arrest people for carrying the tools used in shoplifting -- things like foil-lined clothes that bypass electronic security and equipment to remove theft detection devices. Right now officers have to wait for them to take something before they can move in.

"The purpose of this is to give law enforcement some ability to stop it in advance; to go after the people who are planning these before they do it," Barker said.

It's a crime that Barker says costs everybody in higher prices and a weaker economy.

"Half a billion dollars -- half a billion with a 'B' -- is an awful lot of money that could spent by Colorado businesses on creating jobs," Barker said.

It's estimated the shoplifting rings are costing the state up to $12 million in lost tax revenue.

Barker's bill is expected to pass the House this week and head to the Senate where it has broad support.

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