One battle won in endless war over shoplifting

   We had caught another shoplifter in one of our retail stores. We called the police, and the officer handcuffed the little rodent and then searched him.
   The merchandise he took from our store was already on the table. It wasn’t until the officer frisked him that he found the goods taken from our competitor’s store stuffed under his shirt.
   It’s confirmed, I thought with a great sense of relief. They’re picking on someone besides me.
   Sometimes I feel that our stores have been ordained the campus of the Heald School of Shoplifting. Students from all over the world, aspiring to become professional shoplifters, are lured by the seemingly easy pickings our stores offer.
   Not that we intentionally make it easy. We already have security tags, monitored cameras and undercover off-duty police on the scene, and I’m considering placing a snarling pit bull in more remote corners of some stores.
   It all helps, but they still get us. We nail a few freshmen, but students in the popular course, Advanced Shoplifting, are surely robbing us blind.
  The statistics, which I read voraciously to ease my paranoia about being the only one hit, are frightening.

Over 50 percent of all shoplifting is done by teenagers. The FBI estimates that one out of three teenagers steals merchandise.

Girls outnumber boys seven to one in shoplifting activities.

Teens shoplift most often for fun, on a dare.

Approximately $10 million in merchandise is stolen by shoplifters each day in the United States.

One out of 15 customers enters a store with the intent to shoplift.

99 percent of shoplifters apprehended have enough money with them to pay for the merchandise stolen.

It is estimated that only one out of 34 shoplifters is actually apprehended.


   While all those statistics are cause for jumping off an obviously sinking ship, it is the last one that I find most distressing, and easiest to believe.
   There is no absolute prevention, or anything close; 33 out of 34 shoplifters are getting away. And then the one that is caught is booked, charged with petty theft, and in most cases back on the street within hours. The court system is simply too overwhelmed to prosecute most cases.
   So what does a retailer do? Since taking every third teenager who enters the store and throwing them out on their ear might be considered discriminatory, only one option is left – raise prices. To compensate for losses, the paying customers are forced to share the burden.
   And the battle continues to increase our capture rate to to two out of 34. The fellow we caught who also had the merchandise from our competitor’s store was a "professional." He was on parole, with a string of felonies on his record.
   If we only catch one out of 34, this was a good one to catch. The teenagers who steal on a dare (ha, ha, ha, what fun!) in general confine their plunder to inexpensive items. The professionals can put you out of business.
   Some professionals we know by sight but are unable to catch. I saw one on the street the other day selling some of our merchandise out of his car. Not having seen him take it, there was nothing I could do except complain to the police that he was selling without a permit. He moved on before I even got that pitiful chance.
   The frustration is overwhelming. In 12 years of business, I have personally only witnessed a handful of shoplifting incidents. When I wander through the stores, I search for that one out of every 15 people with evil intent. I see only good, honest people.
   Am I blind? The statistics say a bat could see better than me.
   So I pour money into prevention, hoping to mitigate our damages from the invisible shoplifters. With thousands and thousands of dollars spent on cameras, sensors and undercover security, we might deter a few teenagers and catch a couple of professionals.
   When the police led the handcuffed fellow into the patrol car, it was a small measure of satisfaction. But while he had flunked Advanced Shoplifting and would be spending the summer in jail, I couldn’t help but think he’d most likely be back next semester determined not to flunk again.



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