Criminals in Prince George's County are stealing Tide laundry detergent from stores and trading it for marijuana and crack, according to Sgt. Aubrey Thompson, head of the Prince George's County Police crime unit that investigates retail crimes.
Thompson went live on KPCC's Take Two radio show in Southern California Wednesday and talked about why hardened criminals are turning to Tide.
They aren't using it to make the drugs. But its popularity as a laundry detergent gives it bartering power, he explained.
"Why Tide though?" asked Take Two Co-Host A Martinez, who wondered why another brand of liquid laundry detergent wouldn't do.
"The product has proven to be effective; it works. Everybody wants Tide," Thompson answered. "That's the product I use."
The detergent is popular among criminals because they want to commit crimes with a high reward and low risk, said Thompson.
Once on the street, they can exchange a $20 bottle of the detergent with a local street dealer for $3—or for a $5 bag of marijuana or a $5 rock of crack, Thompson said. They can also take it to a fencing operation such as a nail salon, barber shop or other local store, according to Thompson. Sometimes one person collects different stolen items and ships them overseas for sale, he said.
The bottles are heavy, weighing 150 ounces, Martinez said and asked how people made off with more than one bottle.
They walk into a store and fill their carts with 40 bottles or so then cover it up with a big roll of Bounty paper towels and walk out of the store calmly, Thompson answered.
Tide crime has slowed down in Prince George's County, but it is still a problem that takes money from the community, according to Thompson.
"We get teased all the time," Thompson said when Martinez asked if officers ever laughed about chasing Tide as part of their job.
"It's no laughing matter because it affects the quality of life of the community because that's money that's being taken from the community and tax," Thompson said.
The illegal Tide transactions generate no tax, so the state of Maryland is not getting funds—and stores have to charge higher prices that the community pays for, Thompson explained. And the solution is not as simple as putting it behind the counter, he added.
"You can't lock up or put security devices on Tide," Thompson said.
It's something people have to use everyday, and if stores locked it up, customers would go elsewhere, according to Thompson. It would also be too costly for stores, he said. But the Organized Retail Crime Unit that he heads is working collectively with area retailers to stop the theft, according to Thompson.