Teamwork with Cops Brings Some Relief to Store Hard Hit by Shoplifters

At the 250 Broadway Duane Reade are, from left, store manager Arssath Uthumalebbe, Duane Reade district manager Joe Losos and 1st Precinct Crime Prevention Officer Brian Nelsen. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Oct. 31, 2017

The managers who run one of Lower Manhattan’s most shoplifted stores had come to say thanks.

The two-level Duane Reade at 250 Broadway has been a notorious victim of thefts, with routine pilferage of large quantities of diet pills, cold medicines, perfumes, makeup and more. But at a recent meeting of the 1st Precinct’s Community Council—a monthly gathering that routinely draws complaints from residents about safety and quality-of-life concerns—Joe Losos, district manager for the 13 Duane Reades below Canal Street, and Arssath Uthumalebbe, manager of the store, stood up to offer praise for the precinct’s help.

“I wanted to thank you guys at Precinct One for all the support,” Losos began. “Our employees safety is very important to us and we get hit with a lot of shoplifting, mostly petty stuff, but some of these guys get a little belligerent and its nice to know that you do have our backs.”

In a telephone interview later, Losos said that a little over a year ago the store began to suffer a rash of shoplifting. That triggered a closer relationship, he said, between the store and Crime Prevention Officer Brian Nelsen, who he called “the most thorough and engaged policeman that you’d ever want to work with.”

Uthumalebbe texts video and still photos of shoplifters, captured by surveillance cameras, to Nelsen, who in turn sends the pictures and information to a plainclothes unit, the detective squad and Crime Analysis Unit as well as to other Downtown Duane Reade stores.

“We try to get it out as quickly as we can,” Nelsen, a 15-year veteran of the force, said in an interview at the 1st Precinct. “I usually send between two and four emails a week with wanted photos. The Crime Analysis Unit makes a report with some statistics for [the stores] so they can see what’s been going on, what kinds of items they’ve been hitting. This week it could be cold medication, the next week it could be body lotion.” The photos and information alert store managers to look out for the suspects and possibly display smaller quantities of certain products or lock them behind glass cases.

“There’s a lot of moving parts that makes this all work,” Nelsen noted, downplaying his role in the anti-theft effort. “I’m happy that they feel that way about me but it’s not just me. I’m a small part. I’m a guy whose funneling information from one place to another, trying to get it to the right people.”

Of all the Duane Reade stores, Nelsen said he has an especially good relationship with the 250 Broadway store, in part because it gets hit the most. But also because the management is especially receptive to suggestions from him and his partner, George Liropoulos, who advise them on better theft protection. (Store employees are told to keep a safe distance from shoplifters and not attempt to block them from leaving the store.)

Thefts at the Duane Reade have decreased since January, Nelsen said, but it is difficult to pinpoint a single cause. Cooperation between the store and the 1st Precinct is one. The possible arrest of a team of repeating thieves, still in jail, could be another.

The NYPD would not provide total comparative numbers of shoplifting incidents and arrests for the 250 Broadway store, saying only that there have been 28 more arrests this year, to date, than the same period the year before. “We had two or three [shoplifting incidents] a day before, and sometimes it’s become like two or three a week,” said Uthumalebbe, who has managed the store for nearly three years.

The 250 Broadway store is hit hard, said Losos, the Duane Reade district manager, because its location is especially busy and a subway entrance is on the same corner. “If you’re near a subway stop, you’re up 10 to 20 percent in shoplifting activity,” Losos said.

The relationship between the Duane Reade and the 1st Precinct sometimes extends beyond crime prevention. Recently, Uthumalebbe arrived at the station with boxes of masks, wipes and gloves for the precinct’s collection for hurricane victims in Puerto Rico. It was a donation from a charity through his Duane Reade store and Nelsen was there to accept it. Yet another sign of gratitude.

“You always support me right away,” the store manager told the cop with a smile.