Security in Shopping Malls: 7 Tips for Law Enforcement

ORC investigators can share these tips with law enforcement when resolving crime ring incidents.

retail theft ring shoplifting, security in shopping malls. catching shoplifters

While some of the tools of organized retail crime and methods of operation continue to evolve with the changes in technology and dynamics of the retail environment, the importance of cooperative partnerships between loss prevention and law enforcement teams remains a key factor in resolving organized retail crime (ORC) ring incidents nationwide. This article offers seven tips for law enforcement teams to maintain security in shopping malls when targeting ORC rings.

1. Know they are in the area. Ensure stores contact either their regional loss prevention managers or law enforcement contacts immediately upon discovery of a hit.

2. The most successful agencies don’t enter a mall when retail theft hits are reported. They set up surveillances in strategic locations in the parking lots or garages. Responding officers should position themselves in the parking lots outside mall entrances, nearest the stores that reported the theft. In an effort to be undetected by the group, the officers should park further out in the lot. In the parking lots, look for people waiting in vehicles that are not running. These groups never have the engine, heat, or air conditioning running. Engine noise or an exhaust cloud could draw attention to the vehicle as the “mule” secretes the stolen goods.

3. In the mall, look for groups of customers who are not showing affection or companionship. These groups rarely hold hands or laugh like normal customers.

4. The mules, or the individuals who carry the stolen merchandise from the store to the vehicle, will usually walk past their vehicle first, then make a U-turn as if they unintentionally missed their car. In that time, they scan the lot to see if they are being pursued without looking over their shoulder in an obvious fashion.

5. Ask store loss prevention or shopping mall security to help with video surveillance of the suspect’s vehicle, if possible.

6. If the group discovers they are being watched and starts to flee, request that department store loss prevention check bathrooms and customers service areas for any of the subjects. These are known places for a suspect to hide until they can arrange transportation out of the area. Restaurant and mall restrooms are also good hiding locations.

7. If shoplifting suspects see an officer approaching them at the vehicle, many will throw the booster bag into the vehicle and lock the door. At this point, the mule will not give consent to enter the vehicle. The mule will rarely have the keys to the car. They will likely have the remote or the car will be unlocked. The actual entry key will be behind the gas cap lid, above the driver’s visor, or under the driver’s side floor mat. These groups do not want to be connected to their vehicles.

This article was excerpted from “Partnering with Law Enforcement to Combat Organized Retail Crime,” which was originally published in 2004. This article was updated January 16, 2017. 

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