On Feb. 7, police in West St. Paul, Minn., arrested a man who'd stolen $25,000 worth of merchandise from a local Walmart. He pleaded guilty this week. What's strange, local Police Chief Bud Shaver tells The Daily, is that the rather single-minded thief stole only Tide laundry soap: "Amazing, huh?" Actually, it's not. By many accounts, such soap-focused crimes are not particularly unusual. Tide is "the item to steal," says Detective Larry Patterson of Somerset, Ky., where he's seen "a huge spike in Tide theft." Here's what you should know about this strange crime wave:

Why on Earth are people stealing Tide?
It's relatively expensive — about $10 for a small bottle, $20 for a large one — it doesn't spoil, you can't trace it, and as the most popular brand of something everybody needs, it's easy to resell to consumers and unscrupulous local retailers for a quick profit. Pushing Tide is also much safer than dealing drugs, security management expert Robert McCrie tells the AP. "The idea of somebody making significant money as a drug pusher has been pretty much debunked on the streets.... Selling something like this represents little risk of physical danger."

What else is stolen Tide used for?
Law enforcement officials say the laundry soap has also become a sort of black market currency, especially among drug users and dealers.  A Gresham, Ore., cop tells The Daily about watching people buy meth and heroin with six or seven bottles of Tide right in front of police cars. And in Prince George County, Md. — where nearly 30 people were nabbed in a Tide-filching ring last fall — police reportedly call Tide "liquid gold." One of their informants was told by a dealer: "I'm out of marijuana right now, but when I get re-upped I'll hook you up if you can get me 15 bottles of Tide." 

How do you steal large amounts of Tide?
Thieves are often pretty brazen, filling up shopping carts with Tide and pushing them out the door to waiting getaway cars. Other Tide thieves just grab as many bottles as they can carry and run out. A few weeks ago, guards at a Duane Reade drugstore inside New York's Penn Station busted a guy filling an empty suitcase with bottles of the liquid detergent.

How common is this, anyway?
Grocery and drug store theft, which some experts link to the economic downturn, is reportedly becoming more commonplace. Large retailers have noted a significant rise in the organized theft of household staples like baby formula and razor blades in the past few years — reaching $3.53 billion in losses in 2010, according to the National Retail Federation. It's only recently that Tide has become a top target, says the NRF's Joseph LaRocca.

I'm sorry. This sounds bogus to me...
You're not alone. Some retailers are calling the story overblown. While the "theft of Tide is not a new issue in the retail industry," CVS pharmacy PR director Mike DeAngelis tells Fox News, we are certainly "not experiencing a 'wave' of Tide thefts." It's true that there's no clear data, says Patrick Goldstein at NPR's Planet Money, just "a bunch of good anecdotes from around the country." 

Sources: AP, The Daily, Fox News, Global Post, NPR, TIME