By Don Butler
If you're a thief, be careful who your friends are -- at least on Facebook.
Four young males who stole a collector's edition Wayne Gretzky jersey and a trendy cap from a sports apparel store at Kanata Centrum last week learned that the hard way.
It took staff at The Clubhouse, where the theft occurred Wednesday night, just 15 minutes to identify one of the shoplifters by matching security video to a profile picture on Facebook.
The perpetrator was a Facebook friend of one of the 324 people who "like" the store's page on the social media site.
Armed with the man's name and picture, police swiftly recovered the retro snap-back LA Kings cap and No. 99 jersey, valued at $1,000, and returned them to the store Friday.
When store owner Chris Torti suggested checking the security video against profile pictures of the store's Facebook friends, his staffer "kind of rolled his eyes," Torti said Saturday.
"He said, 'Oh man, that's going to take forever'." But 15 minutes later, "he gave me a double thumbs up and said, 'I got him!' Torti said. "I was like, 'Are you serious'?" "Man, oh man," Ottawa Police Chief Vern White exclaimed after hearing about the Facebook sleuthing. "It's the first time I've heard of it. It's impressive." White said city police are now ramping up a social media program, using Twitter to get details of robberies and other crimes out quickly to young people.
But he'd never considered using Facebook as an investigative tool to identify the perpetrators of crime.
"I have to say I do like it when people take that initiative. At the end of the day, it will help us. I'll have to make sure I write a letter to the store and the employees." Torti said his father, who founded the store, ordered the LA Kings Gretzky jersey from the manufacturer, CCM, about 25 years ago.
Though it never graced Gretzky's slender shoulders, it was "very rare and difficult to get," he said, because it had two CCM logos on its rear hem. One logo is standard, but because Gretzky liked to tuck his jersey in at the back, his jerseys always sported twin logos.
Torti said his father asked CCM for Gretzky jerseys with the double logo, and the manufacturer supplied them for a short while. Eventually, though, "somebody said we shouldn't do that for one place, and they stopped doing it," he said.
But the rarity of the twin-logo jerseys means they're more valuable than most. And Torti's store still has a few kicking around.
The one that was stolen had been gathering dust in the back of the store for years. But "it happened to go really well with one of our displays," Torti said, "so we put it out with the display." About 7 p.m. last Wednesday, four males in their early 20s entered the store. Their demeanour and clothing was distinctive -- an "urban look," Torti said.
In Kanata, "we don't have tons of the urban crowd," he said. "When you get four of them at once, and they happen to be thieves, they've kind of put on that persona a little bit." The four convinced the clerk to search for something in the back of the store. While he was doing that, they snatched the jersey and cap and left.
They later told police they had no idea the jersey was valuable, Torti said. "They were expecting a $130 jersey with the hat." When they got home and saw the price tag, he said, "They were like, 'Oh, shit!'" The quartet's distinctive appearance helped narrow the search for them on Facebook, Torti said.
"They were all kind of dressed similar, all kind of acted the same. You just try to find a profile of somebody who looks like guys who might be with the group." Without that lens to focus the search, "it would have been a lot harder," Torti said. "At least it would have been more tedious." The four won't face charges because Torti was more concerned about recovering his merchandise and pressing charges would have complicated and delayed that.
But, he said, "I feel a lot less like a victim with how easily and quickly we got this back." He encouraged other retailers to use Facebook to combat theft. "It's a good technique. Facebook is a great one because you can really dig deep."
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