NEWPORT, Ky. -- The Newport Pavilion off Interstate 471 is relatively new and filled with big name shopping stops like PetSmart, Dick’s, Target and Kroger.
It's busy. It's growing.
But police say it's also a popular place for people to shoot up heroin at all hours of the day.
"You wouldn't know it. It looks so benign here," said shopper Kathryn Cottingham.
Cottingham said her purse was stolen right from her car while she was returning her shopping cart to the Kroger Marketplace.
“The cart guy, the guy that works the carts here at the market, said it happens a lot,” Cottingham said. "They were the ones who indicated to me that (the motive) probably was heroin.”
According to county records, Campbell County saw a $28,626 increase this year in seized heroin compared to last year.
In fact, every county in Northern Kentucky saw massive increases in the amount of seized heroin, and most counties saw increases in heroin-related arrests.
St. Elizabeth Healthcare emergency department officials report a 56 percent increase in the number of heroin overdoses in Covington, Fort Thomas, Edgewood, Florence and Grant County from 2011 to 2012 -- and they are already seeing an increase in 2013.
The I-Team dug through hundreds of pages of police reports going back to early 2012 and uncovered 31 incidents involving heroin use in the popular Newport shopping center.
One incident involved Joshua Schaffner, who police said passed out hanging halfway out of his parked car with a spoon in his right pocket and a syringe in his left.
In another incident, officers said Bryan Berry was spotted near the Kroger bathroom with a "fresh track mark" on his arm "with fresh blood still coming out."
The police report said Berry "admitted to using heroin."
Newport investigators also say Alisha Glenn was busted trying to sell $280 worth of the opiate to a police informant.
"They're here. They do it, and they're gone," said an undercover Newport police detective who is not being identified for his safety. “They're shooting up before they go into work. They're trying to get their high before they go to their jobs.”
The undercover officer has made many recent heroin arrests in Newport.
He said he often catches the drug users in broad daylight, sitting in their cars, shooting up in plain sight.
“(They’re) so focused, they don't even look up,” he said. “That's why a majority of the people we have actually caught here, it's – I hate to say it, but it's kind of easy."
The officer said heroin use in Newport starts first thing in the morning.
“People coming to work, they'll go up to Cincinnati and they'll buy their heroin, and they'll head back," he said.
Anchor Investment Partners, one of the owners of the Newport Pavilion, is aware of the issue.
Anchor Investment Partners CEO Roger Watson said the company is working to solve the issue and keep shoppers safe.
“We are working directly with the local police to appropriately address the situation in order to help maintain the safety of our shoppers, employees and business owners,” Watson said. “We know from discussions with the Newport Police Department that the police are working actively with local business owners to successfully address the situation.”
Police say the Newport Pavilion is a hot spot for heroin use simply because of its location.
The shopping center is close to I-471, a major artery for rush hour traffic. It’s also close to Cincinnati, where the undercover agent says a lot of the heroin comes from.
Several police reports back this theory up: Suspects often tell investigators they bought the drugs in Cincinnati and then pulled over in Newport to shoot up.
"They don't want to wait to get their high,” the officer said. “They paid a lot of money for what they get. And they want to get it now. So they pull into here."
And investigators said drug use in Newport can lead to other crimes, like what happened to Cottingham’s purse.
"You wouldn't think it would happen in a lot like this," Cottingham said. "No, I wouldn't think it would happen here. Especially midday, with your soccer moms.”
A spokesperson for Kroger said officials at the Newport store are very aware of the problem and are working with police.
“Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our associates and customers,” said Kroger spokesperson Jennifer Lien. “We will continue to work with police to address these issues so that the entire neighborhood remains a safe place to live and shop.”
Additional reporting by WCPO's Jessica Noll