'These are savvy professionals': Grocers go after liquor thieves

SEATTLE - You may have seen them yourself, casing the grocery aisles full of vodka and tequila bottles - casually looking around to see who's watching as they contemplate stuffing a fifth down their pant leg or into their puffy coat.

Those are the small players.

The serious liquor thieves are more organized these days, according to Amanda Ip, a spokesperson for QFC and Fred Meyer stores.

"These are savvy professionals who do it for a living," Ip says. "They're smart about it as they've done it for a really long time."

The owner of the West Seattle Puerta Vallarta was recently arrested, accused of hiring local drug addicts to steal alcohol from local grocery stores so he could sell it at the restaurant.

Ip says grocers are working closely with law enforcement, targeting the major players - but can only do so much about securing the product.

"We lock it up and we have the caps on (bottles), and then we limit just the supply that's available on the shelf."

But, she tells KOMO Newsradio, "Security has to be balanced with convenience for shoppers."

Police have indicted more than 200 organized crime suspects in the past few years, but only recent busts have been for stealing alcohol. Laundry detergent, baby formula, razor blades and teeth whitening strips are other popular items for grocery store thieves.