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Police: Drug Addicts Quest for Cash Ranges From Diapers to Stereos

November 23, 1990

HOLYOKE, Mass. (AP) _ Drug addicts trying to scrape up quick cash in this struggling mill city are turning to the unusual plunder of disposable diapers, baby formula and Tylenol, police say.

Across the country, addicts in Los Angeles are likely to grab car stereos while in Miami, aluminum awnings and copper wire are snagged by those looking for ready money, police there said.

″The times keep changing on what’s the hot items. I suppose it’s like the fashion world,″ said Holyoke Police Capt. Richard C. Page.

Reports of disappearing diapers at area pharmacies and supermarkets started about six weeks ago, said Page, head of the bureau of investigations in Holyoke, an old factory city of 60,000 people that has fallen on hard times.

″We’ve been noticing a real pattern of it,″ he said. ″We started talking to some of the people that we deal with and they said that’s the thing to take. Everybody will buy it.″

The thefts are not sophisticated, Page said.

″This time of year, it’s so busy, you can walk out the door with a cart with three or four cases of baby formula. If challenged, they just walk away from the cart or run off,″ Page said.

The diapers can net a return as high as 50 cents on the dollar, said Page, much higher than the usual 10 cents or 15 cents realized on stolen goods. The goods are sold on the street or to small stores that are not choosy about the merchandise’s origins, he said.

Although some major metropolitan police departments such as New York and Detroit said they haven’t noticed trends in thefts by drug addicts, others had, saying the predominant theme is items that are hard to trace and easily unloaded.

″Most people out here, what they rip off tend to be car stereos to turn a profit for their narcotic trade,″ said Officer Don Lawrence, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department.

Police said they noticed the addict thefts became noticeable over the past decade.

″What we’re getting is a lot of them are stealing aluminum and copper. They steal aluminum awnings off the buildings and copper wiring,″ said Miami Police Department spokesman Bobby Navarro. ″At first it caught us by surprise and then we were just a little bit more looking out for things like that.″

In New Bedford, a once prosperous Massachusetts port that has seen a decline like Holyoke, addicts seem to be stealing guns, mainly from house burglaries, said Sgt. James Sylvia.

The stolen guns can easily be sold to dealers for a few bags of heroin, he said.

″They’ve got everything from Uzis down to the smallest,″ Sylvia said.

Although hard-to-trace easy thefts are the usual target, there are exceptions, police said.

″We’ve had people from time to time, the news crews who are out covering news at particular locations, for whatever reason turn their back on unloading their camera, turn around and the whole camera’s gone. These guys are going for whatever they can get their hands on,″ Lawrence said.

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