Earlier this week an alert Phoenix police officer broke-up a luggage theft ring that had been going on for months and, perhaps, a year or more. Police arrested Keith King, age 62, and his wife Stacy Legg-King, age 38, on charges of stealing luggage from travelers arriving at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.
The officer first noticed King approaching the airport carousel from outside the terminal and followed him to the parking lot. Phoenix police spokesperson, Detective James Holmes stated that, “the officer was able to determine that he [King] did not come from a current flight and yet he had removed baggage from that flight’s carousel.” Officers reviewed airport surveillance video and determined that Mr. King was possibly involved in stealing baggage on more than that occasion. “Meanwhile,” Holmes stated, “Mr. King was released from jail on his own recognizance.”
On November 2nd, Keith King was again detained by airport officers for stealing another bag from one of Sky Harbor’s terminals. Police now had enough probable cause for a search warrant at King’s home. When police searched the home, they found at least 1,000 pieces of luggage piled throughout the Waddell, Arizona home. During media interviews at the scene on Tuesday morning, Detective Holmes reported, “There are suitcases everywhere – from floor to ceiling…everywhere!”
It is believed that the Kings sold luggage and contents from the luggage at flea markets and garage sales. Neighbors recall seeing, and some purchasing, luggage, children’s videos, and other miscellaneous items at garage sales held by the Kings.
This case has brought to light the lack of security for the traveling public’s possessions. You may remember as little as four years ago when, at many U.S. airports, you were required to show your luggage claim check and have it compared to the airline luggage tag on your bag prior to exiting the baggage claim area. According to the airlines, the low instance of luggage thefts did not justify the cost of the manpower needed for doing these checks. There is no doubt that these arrests and the publicity surrounding them will cause airlines and airports around the country to review their security policies as it relates to luggage. For example, Southwest Airlines spokesman Brad Hawkins said that although the airline has “security matrices in place, precautions have not included matching claim checks to bags,” a practice that he said was discontinued years ago because of “a manpower issue.” He added: “We are changing some of our practices in Phoenix to make certain that we put more eyes and ears in the baggage claim areas.”
According to data compiled by Société Internationale de Télécommunications Aéronautiques (SITA), an information technology organization representing most major international airlines, 14.28 bags per thousand passengers worldwide were lost during 2008, compared to 18.86 per thousand in 2007. The great majority of these 32.8 million mishandled bags were reunited with their owners in less than 48 hours and only a small fraction, 0.32 bags per thousand passengers, or 736,000 bags, failed to show up at all compared with 0.57 per thousand passengers or 1.28 million bags in 2007.
Phoenix police say it could take weeks or months to inventory and move all of the luggage and its contents. Although some victims of the stolen luggage have been identified, the process is difficult as all luggage tags had been removed from the bags. Police are attempting to identify and locate owners by examining the contents contained within. If you believe you might be a victim of this crime, police are asking you to contact Phoenix Police Property Crimes at (602) 495-7808.