LP Magazine

JAN-FEB 2019

LP magazine publishes articles for loss prevention, asset protection, and retail professionals covering shrinkage, investigations, shoplifting, internal theft, fraud, technology, best practices, and career development.

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S ince the earliest days of organized retail, there has been a recognition of the unique exposure that retailers have to crime and loss. We all know that larceny crimes—shoplifting, credit card fraud, refund abuse, and internal theft—cost the retail industry tens of billions of dollars each year and can devastate a retail business. But shoplifting and other forms of retail theft also impact the industry in ways beyond the monetary loss of stolen merchandise. From the retailer's perspective there are the costs associated with processing the incident, court appearances, evidence management, and other related expenses such as the costs associated with surveillance and security equipment, merchandise protection tools, and technology resources. Looking deeper there are negative impacts due to lost sales, out-of-stocks, and merchandise replenishment. All of these can have substantial impact on the retailer's bottom line—and the prices paid by the retail customer. Historically, society has provided retailers with tools to help control those losses. For example, each state has statutory provisions typically referred to as "merchant protection statutes" that provide retail organizations with extraordinary powers to detain possible shoplifters in a manner that's not available to the typical citizen and also afford significant protection to the retailer against liability. The entire process of prosecuting a shoplifter can be very expensive from a community standpoint as well, ultimately costing thousands of dollars per incident. From the time of arrest, through the court system, and up to the point that a decision on guilt or innocence is determined, extensive financial and human resources are dedicated to ensure a fair and just process. If found guilty, the burden of public responsibility shifts to the management of the criminal sentence, up to and including incarceration for more serious criminal offenses. So retail theft is costing all of us money—a lot of money. For anyone paying attention, that should really come as no surprise. The only true constant has been that the theft problem is not going away. The nature of retail theft may have evolved with the progressive nature of the retail culture and the needs, norms, and values of an evolving society. But the problem itself persists and will likely endure as long retailers open their doors for business. The Debate over Response How we respond to the problem of shoplifting has also shown considerable signs of change. Over the past fifteen to twenty years, there have been significant trends related to retail theft, shoplifting, police response, and the views of the criminal justice system that are causing significant disruption and confusion as to the manner in which shoplifting and related crimes are dealt with. These developments have often been contradictory to each other, influencing how they're handled from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, how they're viewed in the eyes of lawmakers, and even how they're managed from retailer to retailer. As budgets are squeezed and resources stretched, conflicts over the best way to handle this criminal behavior has only continued to escalate. In the past few years, there has been an increasing chorus of criticism of big box retail for what is being perceived as an "overuse" of police resources. With criticisms emerging in large cities and small towns, the story is typically told by citing statistics on how many police responses are made to a particular retail outlet for issues ranging from shoplifting to various other crimes and complaints. In some instances, businesses have been threatened with fines or the intent to declare the retailer as a public nuisance due to the frequency of police calls made to deal with shoplifting and other criminal incidents. In other situations, police have asserted that they will not respond to theft incidents under a predetermined dollar amount. There are even those jurisdictions that have announced they simply won't respond to shoplifting incidents at all, believing that police resources are better spent by focusing on "more serious crimes" other than those that cost retail companies tens of billions of dollars each and every year. For example, in March of 2018 Chief Erika Shields of the Atlanta Police Department announced that officers will no longer be responding to shoplifting calls at department stores. "You can only do so much," said Chief Shields. "We are going to change how we handle shoplifting calls, and primarily, for the most part, we will not be responding to them. Every time we make a shoplifting arrest, that officer is out of service for sixty to ninety minutes. It's not acceptable." While most departments work well with their retail partners, critics 16 JANUARY–FEBRUARY 2019 | LOSSPREVENTIONMEDIA.COM SHOPLIFTING RESPONSE, REACTION, AND RECOURSE In some instances, businesses have been threatened with fines or the intent to declare the retailer as a public nuisance due to the frequency of police calls made to deal with shoplifting and other criminal incidents.

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