Crime Deterrence Enhancements Should Be Prioritized over Tech Improvements

If we want to reduce retail crime and loss, we need to focus on psychology–not engineering.

crime deterrence

This may sound controversial, but it’s been my observation that over the years, In my humble opinion, LP professionals are behavioral experts first and technicians second. LP decision-makers should strive to deploy countermeasures that effectively convince criminals not to attempt or commit a crime.

To cost-effectively do this without seriously harming the customer experience, LP leaders should be their companies’ psychology experts. Psychological concepts are about shaping offender choices and decisions. Doing that in a busy shopping environment with challenging employee compliance issues is tough. After a protective technique is shown to cost-effectively curb theft attempts via good research evidence, only then should we turn to engineering-type questions.

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One analogy might be a pharmaceutical company spending most of its attention on deciding to make a tablet chewable or not, rather than focusing on making it as effective as possible for curing a certain illness before deciding how to best administer it. Following are some protective impact versus technical issues I’ve noticed.

Radio frequency (RF) versus acousto-magnetic (AM) electronic article surveillance (EAS). For so long, retailers debated whether RF or AM was the better technology. Some of the debate made sense due to entrance and exit widths and metallic merchandise, but the initial and more critical R&D belonged on how to make EAS work better to deter low-attention shoplifters in differing store types. Boosting deterrence via “see-get-fear” concepts was and is Job One in my opinion, not where a given tag was on the radio frequency spectrum, or even who made the system.

Analog versus Digital Video Surveillance. Here’s another example of engineers in basements driving protective technology rather than experienced LP experts. In LP, CCTV is supposed to, first, deter crime attempts; second, provide quicker detection and response to crime attempts to reduce their severity; and third, generate crime event documentation for forensic and process improvement use.

It seems to me the digital or analog image capture format argument comes last, not first. Camera deployment tactics—such as what type (ePVM, dome, camera), where it’s placed (location, number, height), and other tactical considerations—are much more critical to reducing crime attempts and their collateral damage than image technology. Storage, easy search, and chain-wide access is very important, but first things first—deter crime attempts.

Source or Hidden Tagging versus Visible Employee-Applied EAS Tagging. This issue has long been highly discussed in our industry, with initial efforts seemingly focused mostly on tagging application costs and compliance rather than how to make a tag more readily deter an inexperienced or even determined thief. First, we should find the best way to curb theft attempts and scare bad guys away. Then we can look at implementation cost-efficiency.

Miniaturization of Camera Domes. This phenomenon might well be the poster child for engineers driving protective device development rather than the asset protection experts. Overwhelming research shows offenders need to spot, recognize, and fear deterrent cues to be deterred. Making things tiny doesn’t get us there. Miniaturization can actually reduce crime deterrence. Plus, worrying about customers being offended by CCTV is not a primary issue. Our studies show most customers, like most offenders, don’t even notice most CCTV systems, and when they do, they either ignore it or even welcome it. It is good practice to conceal some CCTV for the most hardened criminals and to preclude camera disabling by select offenders. But we really want to scare most of them off, not catch them in the act.

EAS Pedestal Concealment. Concealing EAS pedestals is another concept that can seriously degrade the preventive nature of a legacy protective system. Our research shows time and again that customers are not offended by visible deterrents. In addition, honest customers do not tend to notice advertising on pedestals either, according to our research. But offenders, especially opportunistic types, can be partly deterred by visible cues like pedestals, tags, or deactivators, so hiding or covering them up can be detrimental to crime deterrence.

This discussion is designed to get our LP leaders and solution partners thinking and talking and, most importantly, testing. We all want the same thing—lower crime and loss. We absolutely need to work closely with LP solution providers, but retail security experts should guide protective R&D based on human psychology first, not smaller, faster, lighter technical details, which will follow. The features and benefits to start with are those that strongly deter crime attempts.

Having said all this, I’m very encouraged by the brilliant and talented retail and solution executives moving to further weave psychological concepts into enhanced loss control tasking and technologies.

This article was excerpted from “Walmart Moving More to an Evidence-Based Approach,” which was originally published in 2015. This article was updated January 24, 2017. 

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