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Stealing $49.99 At A Time

Posted on 2/2/12 9:36 AM

In January, the Dallas Police issued a statement on a policy change. The department will no longer send a police officer for shoplifting incidents that involve a dollar amount of less than $50. How will this policy affect retailers?

If you are interested in reading the Dallas News article regarding the reasons, the caveats (there are a few) and the rational, here is the link to their article. I will however, offer my opinion, on what I believe is the decriminalization of a crime and a policy which under serves the small retailer. Let’s start with the reasoning behind this decision.

In the Dallas News article, the Dallas Police stated that, “The policy change is part of a wide-ranging strategy designed to target large, organized shoplifting rings rather than wasting resources on small, isolated cases.”

For clarification, these organized shoplifting rings are what the retail industry calls Organized Retail Crime or ORC. The interesting part of the statement by the Dallas Police is the last part; “Wasting resources on small, isolated cases.”

In short, the Dallas Police have decided “which types of retailers” (those who experience ORC) receive the benefit of “public” funds (e.g. police) to combat crime. If your business is not a “target” of ORC then you will receive less police support than a business that is considered a target. In other words, the Police will assist the “right” type of retailer to combat a nationwide profit problem.

Now I am not suggesting that ORC isn’t an issue or that tax dollars shouldn’t support combating the problem. What I am suggesting is that the policy is misguided at best. The Dallas Police linked their policy decision to their efforts to combat ORC so the topic is germane to the subject. I applaud them for the initiative. ORC, after all, is reportedly a huge problem for retailers.

Some would argue that ORC is nothing more than professional shoplifting of years past. The actual costs of ORC to retailers, the clear definition of the crime and how many actual ORC cases occur have all been, and continue to be, debated. You can learn more about this subject through the findings from a Congressional Research Service Report published on January 6th (http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R41118.pdf). 

shoplifterMy point is that shoplifting is either a crime or it is not a crime. If it is a crime, and I think it is defined as a crime in the Texas Penal Code, then every business owner/operator has the right to call the police and have the police “protect and serve.” The fact that a dollar amount of less than fifty dollars makes the crime a Class C Misdemeanor is an issue of the statute, not the rights of the victim.

It’s not the shop owner’s fault that a theft of merchandise valued at forty dollars is the same class of crime inTexasas “using a laser pointer.” By the way, if you call the Dallas Police and falsely report the amount of the crime as $51, that is a Class B Misdemeanor and you could be arrested for “lying to the police,” which is a larger offense than stealing from a retailer.

What about the retailers? Frankly, what alarms me are the retailers who actually support this policy. I guess if the average ticket price in your store is $100 you’re okay with your fellow retailers receiving less service from law enforcement. If your store has an army of store detectives who monitor and apprehend shoplifters, then this won’t have much of an impact other than having to alter your prosecution policy. I am also very disturbed that the Texas Retail Association has not demonstrated the outrage that I have. After all, the TRA is responsible for being the larger voice of retail loss prevention inTexasand they have made significant strides towards getting attention for the perceived ORC issue. I refuse to believe that “big box” and “big ticket chains” have traded their ORC agenda at the cost of smaller retailers. That would be a crazy trade for a category of criminal activity that we can’t define or put a price tag on.

Now honestly, I’ve never believed that a large emphasis on shoplifting is the key to shrink reduction. Retailers get a much better return on investment when they focus on education, auditing, and internal investigations. However, being that I work with many small and medium sized retailers, this policy not only puts a burden on them, it will increase shoplifting inDallas. That may be a bold prediction, but publically telling criminals the police won’t respond to this crime…is an invitation to steal.

The bottom line is that we, as retailers, can and should determine on our own when to prosecute, police should not have a policy that limits our ability to seek help when we are victimized. The People of Texas can change their laws if they see fit, police policy should not usurp that process. Has anyone considered that this “policy” is a “larceny” policy, which means that if an employee steals $40 you can’t have them, arrested either?

It’s not often that I get fired up over a shoplifting decision. I believe we can better spend our time and money focused on the other 70% of causes of loss. I am appalled however by any police policy that dismisses the effects of crime on retailers and reduces its support because they (the police) believe it is a “waste of resources.” (I think “radar traps” are a waste of resources…I mean it’s just a Class C Misdemeanor and you’ve got an officer sitting out there all day when they could be doing something productive…like processing shoplifters.) Now, I will absolutely retract my outrage if anyone in favor of this, including the Police, is willing to publicly post their home address and a statement that reads, “The police will not respond to any theft of my property if it is under $50 and you have a valid ID.” Dallas PD Policy resized 600

Every retailer has a right to equal protection under the law. I believe this policy unfairly penalizes small business and those whose products are not enticing to the phantom Organized Retail Crime folks. I believe that the majority of my loss prevention peers do not support this type of policy even if they believe in internal protocols for prosecution. My opinion may be a little biased. I have after all spent fourteen years helping small and medium sized businesses with their efforts to reduce loss. I have always recommended that without proper training retailers should let the police catch the bad guys. Apparently, inDallas, that advice won’t work anymore.

My suggestion for Dallas retailers is this: You have the right to sell your goods at any price you wish. So put up signs that reads: “The minimum retail price of any unpaid for item is $51, which includes the cost of recovery and replacement. Ticketed prices represent the discount for paying customers.” 

Written by Raymond Esposito, Executive Vice President

Topics: policies and procedures, Loss Prevention program and development

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