Enough is Enough: Consecutive RILA Conference Sessions Aim to Put Shoplifting Prevention Back on Track

Sponsored by the Retail Industry Leaders Association

The cooperative effort to fight shoplifting is in desperate need of a reboot-and the industry is hoping that sessions at the upcoming Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) conference provide just the kick-start that’s needed.

RILA’s 2018 Retail Asset Protection Conference, April 29 to May 2 in Orlando, will feature both a general and breakout education session on the topic, bringing together stakeholders whose gradual drifting apart has reached a crisis point. Walter Palmer (shown), one of the industry’s most recognizable experts, will act as the moderator of both sessions, “Shoplifters, ORC, Shrinking Justice & Opioids: What’s a Retailer to Do?” and “From 40,000 Foot View to Practical Application” The panel includes a vice president of loss prevention, an assistant police chief, an attorney general, a municipal judge, an academic expert and the CEO of the Texas Retailers Association. “Both are designed to be much more than venting sessions,” explained Palmer, CFI, CFE, practice leader for EPIC Integrated Risk Solutions.

“One of the goals is to get people with competing interests together and ask them: ‘What would be palatable to you?’ ‘What are the things you need?’ ‘If there were certain voluntary standards for restorative justice programs, would that be acceptable?’ ‘What would a model program look like?'” said Palmer. “We need to get people to throw out ideas and begin that dialogue—to identify steps for where we go from here.”

How did we get here? Nobody thinks shoplifting should go unchecked, and that underlying truth forged a natural alliance to find solutions to curb it. The two sides seemed clearly drawn. Shoplifters on one side. Retailers, law enforcement, courts, and society in general on the other. In recent years, however, forces have been dividing the once-united opponents of shoplifting.

There has been a gradual but notable deterioration in the partnership, as competing pressures and priorities have pulled stakeholders in opposite directions. Those forces are well known, and include rising felony thresholds, law enforcement budget pressures, and an overburdened criminal justice system. Before long, even alternative programs—designed to take pressure off public resources—found themselves under attack. The final straw for some appears to be recent complaints that retailers, who are principal victims of the opioid crisis because addicts steal to support their habit, are actually contributing to the crisis by failing to prevent gift card fraud.

As cracks formed in the alliance, fingerpointing started to replace cooperative solution-building. “Police started saying they can’t respond to shoplifting calls, so retailers say, ‘Okay, we’ll come up with some alternative programs.’ And in most jurisdictions people love it, but then in other jurisdictions those same programs come under attack,” said Palmer. “For retailers, there really is a sense developing of ‘Well, what can we do?'”

Palmer suggests that there is general appreciation for the complex issues that underpin the disunity, so the time is now ripe to begin addressing them. “There is not an intellectual lack of understanding of the sticking points,” said Palmer. “But how do we work around them? What can we do to make it work?”

 

The sessions at the RILA conference come at a critical time. First, because a course correction is sorely needed to stop partners from drifting still further apart. And, perhaps more importantly, because retail workers are being put at significant risk every day because of the current inability to coalesce against shoplifting. The issue comes up whenever retail asset protection professionals get together, according to Palmer. “You can’t go to a gathering of retailers without the conversation eventually turning to the issue of violence, threats of violence, and intimidation against front-line staff. Retailers want to do what is right for their employees and their customers and we must recognize that the attitudes and aggressiveness of shoplifters are at levels we have not seen before. In some cases, we need police response more than ever,” he said. “As a moderator, one of the things I’m really interested to ask is what are questions you’d like to be asked? And what are the questions you’d like me to ask other panelists?” added Palmer. “I really hope to tease out—not only what people’s viewpoints are—but what specifically is required to overcome the barriers and to arrive at solutions that we can all get behind.”

According to Lisa LaBruno, senior VP of retail operations at RILA, the sessions at the conference and the sourcing of the panelists was spearheaded by the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention (NASP). “The sessions aim to get the coalition against shoplifting back on the right track and lay the foundation for a multi-disciplinary task force that can forge an “everybody-wins” approach; one that will satisfy detractors and provide the path to reducing recidivism that shoplifting victims—both retailers and communities—are searching for.”

The cost of repeat offenders is a core issue for retailers and communities alike. Education, unlike adjudication, targets the root causes of shoplifting—not the least of which is its connection to mental health and addiction, especially the opioid crisis. The right education doesn’t just provide redress for victims and unilateral punishment for offenders; it gives offenders the specific tools they need to prevent shoplifting in the future. As such, education surely needs to play a central role in whatever programs carry stakeholders forward in a new, united front against shoplifting, suggested Palmer. “Because ultimately the question is, how do we solve some of these underlying issues—and not just continue to play whack-a-mole?”

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