Smithfield Police, ABC Authority working to curb string of liquor thefts

Published 7:34 pm Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Smithfield Police Chief Alonzo Howell told Town Council members on March 25 that he’s made contact with the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority’s Board of Directors to discuss ways of improving the security of the South Church Street ABC store following a string of larcenies.

The most recent involved two suspects – 41-year-old Tia Browne of Newport News and 34-year-old Christopher Cheek of South Boston – who are accused of stealing $1,300 worth of alcohol and then leading Smithfield police and Isle of Wight County sheriff’s deputies on three separate car chases March 14 and 15.

On Jan. 29, Smithfield Police arrested three adults and a juvenile male with roughly $1,500 of allegedly stolen merchandise from the South Church Street ABC store and others in Newport News. Police identified the adults as 40-year-old Michael Brown, 32-year-old John Wood and 22-year-old Iron Ankum, all of Newport News.

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According to Howell, there were 18 separate larcenies reported at the South Church Street ABC store from January 2023 through March 25 of this year.

The ABC Authority, Howell said, “does not view the larcenies in the Smithfield store as a high volume of larcenies.”

A 2023 analysis by ABC Hampton Roads affiliate 13 News Now found 288, or 10%, of the 2,486 larcenies reported over the first six months of that year in Virginia Beach, were at ABC stores. Another ABC store in Portsmouth was hit 78 times from June through December 2022.

“Smithfield is not the only locality; this has happened throughout the greater Hampton Roads area,” Howell said.

On more than one occasion, security cameras inside the South Church Street store have captured thieves in action.

Despite Smithfield’s relatively low number of thefts compared to Hampton Roads’ major cities, the 18 incidents “are not good impressions at the end of the day,” said Smithfield Mayor Steve Bowman.

Bowman, who preceded Howell as the town’s police chief, said the incidents will factor into the uniform crime reports Virginia State Police release annually. Smithfield Police responded to 19 shoplifting incidents in 2022, according to the most recent report, which was released in mid-2023.

“One of the things we’re planning to do is to keep the lines of communication open, and so when we have activity there, they will be notified immediately,” Howell said, referring to the state ABC Authority.