In an effort to combat rising property crime in Seattle, members of the Seattle Police Department’s Major Crimes Task Force (MCTF) and Pawn Shop/Property Recovery Unit rounded up burglars, car prowlers, and other criminal suspects caught selling stolen goods to undercover detectives at an SPD-run fencing operation during a year-long investigation, Operation Oliver’s Twist.
In 2010, Seattle bucked a national trend of declining property crime rates, with burglary and theft rates here increasing 3.2% in contrast to a 1.3% decrease across the country, according to data from the U.S. Department of Justice’s “Crime in the United States” report.
Detective work has also shown that once property is stolen, it is quickly disposed of through pawn shops, illegal fences, other criminals, or well known internet web sites, often far below retail prices, for pennies on the dollar.
To combat this trend, detectives from the Seattle Police Department’s Major Crimes Task Force and the Pawn Shop/Property Recovery Unit, working with the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office (KCPAO) and the FBI, set up a storefront fencing operation – a tactic not used by SPD since 1979 – where undercover officers spent 11 months buying stolen goods from suspects for pennies on the dollar, with no questions asked.
Business was slow at first with just a few suspects coming into the shop to sell their stolen goods. Within a short period of time the word spread and we established a regular criminal clientele list.
During the operation, detectives purchased over 900 stolen items including 146 watercraft, motorcycles and other vehicles, 76 bicycles, numerous stolen computers and personal electronic devices, personal identifications, passports, and credit cards.
Operation Oliver’s Twist also enabled officers to remove a number of dangerous weapons from Seattle’s streets. Police recovered 27 stolen firearms during the operation and, in one case, a convicted felon sold military-grade C-4 explosives to undercover officers which would have ended up on the streets of Seattle.
Due to the sensitivity of the investigation and to ensure the safety of the undercover detectives, items and vehicles recovered during Operation Oliver’s Twist were not immediately returned to the owners. In some cases, suspects had stolen the vehicles from friends and family members, and detectives determined that immediately returning the stolen property could jeopardize the investigation and put undercover officers in danger.
As a result of the operation, the Major Crimes Task Force developed over 146 auto theft cases which will result in arrests and charges. Comparatively, over the last several years, the Seattle Police Department has averaged approximately 80-100 auto theft cases per year which are investigated and charged by the Auto Theft Unit.
As a result of the operation, detectives identified 102 suspects involved in 314 separate criminal cases. Dozens of suspects were arrested and booked into jail over the last 24 hours on their outstanding cases. The remaining suspects are currently at large and will have warrants issued for their arrest. Six suspects, involved in five separate cases, are facing federal charges filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
During Operation Oliver’s Twist, the Major Crimes Task Force and Pawn Shop/Property Recovery Unit worked closely with the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and the FBI. The partnership was very successful, with the FBI providing valuable logistical, financial, and personnel support to the operation.
This operation has been a great success!
The suspects identified during the investigation have proven to be high profile criminals who are known burglars or auto thieves.
Since the creation of the Major Crimes Task Force, this innovative squad of detectives has developed unconventional ways of combating property crimes throughout the greater Seattle area.
The MCTF has previously targeted auto thieves through hand-to-hand meth buys in Operation Crystal Blue Persuasion, counterfeit merchandise rings in Operation Faux Bag Down, and stolen property rings in Operation Yellow Jacket, and Operations Beauty and the Boost and Super Boosters.
The last two operations targeted small convenience stores that were ordering and purchasing stolen property for resale. Operation Oliver’s Twist is another example of the MCTF looking at new and creative ways to target Seattle’s most prolific criminals.
To assist victims in locating their stolen property and to assist in the prosecution of the criminals involved in Operation Oliver’s Twist, the Major Crimes Taskforce is sharing photos of the stolen property on the SPD Flickr account.
Property crime victims in the Greater Seattle/King County area may view photographs of the evidence recovered during this operation. Victims must be able to identify any property they believe belongs to them and must have reported it missing to law enforcement prior to March 5th, 2012.
Victims should call 206-733-9616 to talk to a detective or to leave a message for a detective to return their call. Callers must have a police case number with them at the time they phone detectives. Please note that the items posted are the only items that were recovered during the operation and there is no other property to view. The Flickr address is www.flickr.com/photos/seattlepolice/sets/72157629133932896
Some recovered property has not been tied to reported crimes due to victims not reporting the crime or not having property serial and/or model numbers.
The Seattle Police Department’s Major Crimes Task Force would like to thank the following agencies who have assisted in this operation: the FBI, the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), and the KCPAO.
Property Photos can be viewed at www.flickr.com/photos/seattlepolice/sets/72157629133932896
Citizen Hotline: (206) 733-9616