TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Convenience store crime is nothing new, but what's happening right now across Tucson is disturbing on many different levels.
Not only because of the number of burglaries and robberies taking place, police said, but because of the escalation in violence that's putting public safety at risk.
MOBILE USERS: Photos of some of the suspects from the wave of convenience store crime is Tucson are available HERE.
The Tucson Police Department is calling upon its specialized Community Response Team to find out what's going on, determine who's responsible and how to stop them.
"We're gonna pull up here and we're gonna park," Sgt. Paul Sheldon, a 17-year Tucson police veteran and supervisor of the Midtown CRT team, said during a recent patrol. "We're in a plain clothes, unmarked city of Tucson vehicle and we're gonna sit and watch."
Such has been the case the last three weeks for TPD's Community Response Teams.
Four CRT divisions – east-side, midtown, west-side and south-side - are working together on one issue.
"We're immediately gonna look at him," Sheldon said pointing to a young man loitering outside a midtown Circle K. "Because hoodies and baggy clothing" have been consistent in many of these cases.
Sheldon is referring to a surge in convenience store crimes -- beer skips, larcenies, robberies and burglaries.
There have been about 25 cases this month, and as many as 75 since October 2015.
Stealing cigarettes or liquor is one thing, but when organized crews of three or four thugs come in, terrorize innocent people, even shoot one clerk in the chest like last week, that changes the stakes considerably.
"The clerks are at a huge disadvantage," Sheldon said. "Even if they call 911, by the time we get an officer over here, these guys are out; they're in and out of the store in 30 seconds to a minute, tops."
That's why TPD is pulling out all the stops and putting around-the-clock surveillance teams on as many stores as they can.
That includes questioning subjects, to running plates on anyone acting suspiciously inside or outside the stores.
"We're showing a home of 7300 block of North Mona Lisa," a dispatcher said over the radio, referencing a license plate called in by an officer on Sheldon's team.
"Well, that's a long way from here," Sheldon said from his position near Speedway and Craycroft.
The CRT officer observed a female driver, accompanied by a man in a gray hoodie, who appeared to be casing a store in midtown.
As they left, the officer approached in an unmarked vehicle.
That's when things went from curious – to hectic in an instant.
"The car immediately turned the wrong way," the officer said over the radio, his voice getting louder with each phrase. "She cut across all lanes of traffic, kind of ran a red and is westbound Speedway. I don't have her."
"Copy, I'll try and catch up," Sheldon said, slamming his SUV into drive and pulling onto a surface street near Speedway.
With license plate number and vehicle description in hand, we closed the gap on Speedway very quickly, darting around traffic and looking for a dark blue Hyundai Elantra.
But by the time we reached Tucson Boulevard, it appeared she was gone.
A look at the the description and license plate registration revealed a history of narcotics and shoplifting.
Sheldon said it is not a definitive link to robbery or burglary, but it's still valuable information and another investigative lead in this exhaustive, city-wide operation.
"We're here, we're watching. We're always here whether you see us or not," Sheldon said, from his surveillance post in midtown. "My car doesn't stick out at all. There's no way anyone would know right now there's a police officer across the street from Circle K watching it."