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Thieves try to make clean getaway by stealing laundry detergent

March 21, 2012

The criminal mind is a fascinating thing, not so much for its ingenuity, but for the fact that if it were employed in honest pursuits, there is no end to the number of world problems it could solve.

Like if the guys involved in “Oceans 11” had put that much thought into cancer research, melanoma would be a thing of the past.

But I would give an extra gold star to the fellow who figured out that laundry detergent could be a high-profit target for organized crime sprees.

Police say that Tide detergent, of all things, has become the hot item among, well, hot items. Thieves are grabbing so much Tide and running for the exits that retailers are clamping those anti-theft clips on the plastic bottles — the ones that always take the cashier about 20 minutes and three calls to the assistant manager to remove. (I always wonder how much merchandise is shoplifted while half of the department store staff is distracted by trying to remove an anti-theft clip.)

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In Minnesota, police say one man stole $25,000 worth of Tide in a little over a year. And entire crime syndicates are made up of Tide trafficking, using it for barter, selling it on the black market or putting it up on Internet-auction sites.

As usual, police are blaming drugs. According to The Atlantic magazine, police “say that drug dealers have started urging their clientele to pay with Tide bottles in lieu of cash.”

I understand that a crack house can be terribly hard to keep clean. If you can counteract the rancid smoke with a little “summer breeze” in the curtains, I suppose you could advertise yourself as a “boutique crack house” and charge a premium.

But if you’re a drug kingpin, don’t you lose a little of your panache sitting around in a private den filled with AK-47s and bottles of laundry soap? If you can’t make a deal because you’re soaking your unmentionables, it’s going to cost you with a Mexican drug cartel, I would think.

What’s hard to explain is why Tide? No one’s stealing All, or Arm and Hammer, or Biz, or Bio Kleen Citrus.

And at the risk of showing my ignorance — and I’m sure I’ll hear from the Tide people on this — isn’t it all the same stuff? I always assumed laundry soap was like gasoline. Whether you call it Shell, Exxon or BP, it all comes out of the same pipe.

Long ago, I remember wondering why I was spending three times as much for laundry detergent in a red bottle when the stuff in the green bottle did pretty much the same thing.

So I have a hard time understanding why drug addicts are being so picky.

I think back to my college roommate Dave, and his grand proclamation that “Soap is soap.” And sure enough, every semester, he would show up with a 2-gallon bottle of pink fluid with a label reading “SOAP,” and he would use it for everything —dishes, laundry, bathing. A lot of us were dubious, but it worked for him. He thought he’d died and gone to heaven when they started making “SOAP” with one of those little pump nozzles on top.

But apparently the Tide phenomenon proves him, and me, wrong. The criminal element has spoken, and Tide is the Rolex of soap.

The other side to this is that maybe becoming the target of crime syndicates is nature’s way of telling you that your prices are too high. But if you get the endorsement of the local meth lab, I guess you have license to set the price anywhere you want.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or via email at timr@herald-mail.com.

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