Prosecution, civil penalties, or alternative justice programs…no perfect choice for the retailer for combatting the shoplifting problem. Each option is beneficial in allowing the retailer to recover some losses, affect some recidivism and deter some theft.
Prosecution was once the best alternative as a deterrent, but in today’s world, the court systems are overburdened and the retailer is fortunate if they can get police response on petty crimes. If the wrongdoer receives a criminal sentence, they go into a system that does little or nothing for recidivism. The first offender may get a community service judgement and if completed within the proportioned time limit, may have their record expunged. We all know the prison system is in need of reform, and if the court does order restitution, the likelihood of it being paid is not guaranteed since many courts do not pursue or follow up on missed payments, or defaulted accounts, etc.
What are the best avenues to take for petty theft and larceny-related crimes? There is probably a mix, but what is that mix? Retailers are in the business to make money. As much as we take it personally when someone steals from us, at the end of the day, it’s not up to the loss prevention team to affect punishment. It’s up to the loss prevention team to protect the assets of the company, which means protecting profits. Successful loss prevention professionals follow this mantra and strive to strike the right balance that deters and responds to theft in a way that does not expose the retailer to negative publicity, legal issues and expense. However, just like a police force, it is beneficial to create a sense of community within their retail markets by utilizing alternative justice and civil recovery programs as these show compassion and at the same time, good business sense.
Even though there are limitations within these programs such as, the identification of “first” offender through alternative programs can only be identified if they have not been successfully prosecuted or they have not been apprehended by the same retailer. Due to privacy laws, minors are not vetted completely and may make it through the program due to the inability to identify their prior offenses. Al Capone was arrested 11 times before the courts were able to prosecute him. Al would have been eligible for alternative justice programs as a “first offender” had those programs been available in the early 1900’s. This may be a slight exaggeration but for those of us who have been in the business of apprehending shoplifters, the shoplifter will undoubtedly say, “But, it’s my first time”. We silently reply in our minds, “…yeah, first time for getting caught!”. That being said, there is definitely a benefit to provide a well thought out program with parameters that will qualify some first offenders and rule out others. Certainly, we don’t want first offenders who are working with ORC operators to be offered such a program but without certain parameters, they will. Figuring out those parameters is key, but very tricky. While these programs seem to work well for those who can afford to pay the program fee, it may deter others who could benefit as well, simply because they can’t afford it and are not sure whether there is payment flexibility.
Studies are unclear as to whether any of these programs are more effective than the other as it relates to recidivism, mostly due to other variables that have to do with loss prevention programs and criteria set to direct shoplifters into each program. These statistics vary and data is not equally measured but the answer lies somewhere between these programs and having a solid “Loss Prevention or Asset Protection” program.
Developing great customer service among the sales staff, increasing employee awareness, enforcing defensive merchandise placement strategies creating metrics to identify areas of opportunities, and then applying technology such as cameras, alarms, E.A.S, etc., to bring those areas of concern back into line, are undoubtedly the first steps. Hiring the “best of the best” in this field to collaborate on ideas and best practices while addressing overt behavior such as internal theft, shoplifting, fraud, and other crimes while understanding and defining the legal acumens that today’s loss prevention staff have to deal with day to day, are the second step. All of these efforts have one thing in common. They all add expense and do not directly promote sales. As a result, LP budgets face constant flux and challenge. While none of this information is necessarily new, it presents the opportunity to review the necessity of a good civil recovery program to be able to help fund loss prevention efforts and represent the retailer’s brand in the best possible way.
Civil Recovery was originally implemented by California and local governments to allow libraries to recover monetary penalty from delinquent borrowers of books. When retailers discovered theses statutes, they began lobbying for similar statutes to be written to address theft. Today, most states have a civil recovery statute for the theft of merchandise. Several states have taken it a step further to include cash theft for dishonest employees. Although these statutes don’t change often, when they do, it is usually to define statute amounts that are “reasonable” along with guidelines designed to create a due diligence by the retailer and their civil recovery solution provider to follow through with pursuing defaulted cases in civil court or small claims court. Utilizing these programs properly and creating consequences for the thief, may ultimately be the final and perhaps best step toward affecting recidivism and hopefully recovering enough funds to help supplement loss prevention programs as truly intended. When these funds are not applied for this expressed purpose, we are shooting ourselves in the proverbial foot! Creating risk adverse practices, improved client communication, and holding your service providers in these categories accountable are just another key to a comprehensive loss prevention program.