GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Police are looking into a possible fencing operation at two Grand Rapids smoke shops that the police chief said may preying on kids to get them to commit thefts.

Last week, police executed search warrants at Flavors Smoke Shop on Leonard Street NW and Flavors and PMC Private Stock on S. Division Avenue.

Police block off Flavors Smoke Shop on S. Division Avenue in Grand Rapids on Nov. 9, 2023.
Police block off Flavors Smoke Shop on S. Division Avenue in Grand Rapids on Nov. 9, 2023.

Grand Rapids Police Department Chief Eric Winstrom said he can’t say the businesses are directly connected to the killings of three people in the Burton Heights neighborhood a few days before the raids, though he said the deaths kicked the investigation that was already in process into high gear.

“Those three murders prompted conversations here as we met with our leadership team and detectives (about) what’s driving the violence,” Winstrom said.

At one of the Flavors shops, police found a suspect in a Milwaukee homicide. It’s unclear whether the suspect was working at one of the smoke shops or just visiting.

Police also found over 30 pounds of marijuana and lots of THC products, among other stolen items.

“There was a lot of products there that they weren’t licensed to sell,” Winstrom said.

The products were consistent with what was reported stolen after a rash of burglaries at cannabis dispensaries and liquor stores this summer.

“Throughout this summer, what we’ve seen is young people, as young as 11 or 12, in stolen vehicles. We have seen those vehicles used for smash-and-grab burglaries at vape shops and cannabis stores,” Winstrom said.

Winstrom said the two smoke shops that were raided may have been engaged in fencing. That’s when a person pays someone for stolen items and resells the stolen goods for profit.

“There’s an impressionable 12-, 13-year-old kid: ‘Hey, you want to make some cash? I’ve got a way to make some cash.’ And it’s really predatory, in my opinion,” Winstrom said.

He expects charges to be filed eventually in connection to the smoke shops, but said for now, detectives are continuing to investigate.

“Where did these items come from? Were these items reported stolen? There’s a lot of pieces to put together,” Winstrom said.

The chief had strong words for those that are paying young people to commit crimes:

“For someone that supposedly has a legitimate business in our city, that’s an adult, to incentivize our children to commit crimes is disgusting,” Winstrom said.

He can’t say if the two smoke shops were the only businesses that may be engaging in fencing. If anyone suspects that an illegitimate business is running in their neighborhood, they’re encouraged to call GRPD at 616.456.3400 or Silent Observer at 616.774.2345.