A National Shoplifting Prevention Coalition: Driving Change Together as an Industry

EDITOR’S NOTE: The National Association for Shoplifting Prevention (NASP) is a nonprofit organization aimed at reducing shoplifting recidivism through education. Its leadership team is made up of Caroline Kochman, executive director; Renee Sirianni, deputy executive director; and Barbara Staib, director of communications and partnerships. Collectively, the leadership team has seventy-plus years of experience addressing the shoplifting issue, not only in daily work with the offenders themselves but also with all branches of criminal justice and the retail loss prevention industry. The team grew NASP from a research and rehabilitation organization to a recognized leader and trusted expert in providing education programs, services, and solutions compatible with the needs and pain points of all stakeholders.

NASP and its retail advisory committee have launched and are leading a new industry initiative in the form of a coalition to promote an organized national effort to impact shoplifting recidivism through a focus on education.

LPM recently sat down with the NASP leadership team and members of their advisory committee to understand the current climate in the US around shoplifting, the impact of criminal justice reform, and the resulting need for a paradigm shift in our collective response as an industry.

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NASP leadership team
The NASP leadership team includes (from left to right) Barbara Staib, director of communications and partnerships; Caroline Kochman, executive director; and Renee Sirianni,deputy executive director.

EDITOR: Before we discuss the coalition, for those who may not know, can you clarify NASP’s purpose and mission?

STAIB: The sole purpose of the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention is to identify and implement constructive solutions that holistically address the shoplifting problem in our nation. Our mission—to raise awareness about the shoplifting problem and provide education to reduce the number of people who shoplift—governs our efforts, programs, and priorities.

The organization was incorporated in 1989 as a nonprofit under IRS code 501(c)(3). Thirty years of rehabilitating shoplifting offenders, providing proven-effective programs, and developing considerable connections to both retail and criminal justice nationwide give our organization the ability to create, execute, and maintain sustainable shoplifting education programs that reduce shoplifter recidivism to less than 5 percent versus the 30 to 40 percent that is typical without education.

EDITOR: How did NASP get started?

KOCHMAN: Our founder, Peter Berlin, who most people know is my father, spent thirty-plus years as a retail loss prevention professional, consultant on retail theft, and publisher of two leading retail industry newsletters on inventory shrinkage. Just like many of your readers, Peter spent his early years apprehending and prosecuting shoplifters. It was this experience and the disconnect he saw that led to his passion to find out why consumers, people who are not otherwise criminals, shoplift and more importantly figure out what would make them stop.

He spent years meeting with and interviewing shoplifters; he even began holding weekly self-help groups, so he could dive deep into what it was that drove them to do something criminal when it was clearly out of their character and they had the money in their pockets to pay. Once he found answers, he developed rehabilitation and education programs for offenders—first adults and then for juveniles.

As you might imagine, very few offenders were coming to us on their own. We needed to go where they were and began educating criminal justice about why people shoplift and how education, more than fines, community service, or even jail time, would make them stop. My first official role at NASP was attending every criminal justice and law enforcement conference we could to present our work and findings.

At first, the idea that education programs could prevent repeat offenses seemed ridiculous. But through perseverance and commitment to the mission, NASP grew from one court system in Ocala, Florida, to courts in all fifty states in just ten years. It is now, of course, commonplace for court systems to use education programs to prevent shoplifter recidivism.

EDITOR: Why did you move to get retailers more involved?

SIRIANNI: Even with over 4,000 criminal justice professionals using the programs across fifty states, we estimate that we were still only reaching about 2 to 3 percent of the shoplifters, in large part due to the built-in attrition in the criminal justice system. So, early on, it become clear that retailer involvement and their support of education was key to making a greater impact in the fulfillment of our mission. We knew that if we could collaborate with the industry to put a focus on education at the top of the funnel, we could increase our impact exponentially.

To see just how critical the need was, we analyzed the numbers and found that working primarily with criminal justice, it would take us fifty years to educate 1 million offenders. In contrast, collaborating with retail to direct offenders to education earlier in the process, before they fall through the cracks in the criminal justice system, we will have a far more immediate impact.

We are in an unprecedented time. Our organization is seeing the lowest number of offenders being referred by criminal justice in the twenty-two years since I’ve been with NASP. Moreover, 27 percent of our existing court programs have been eliminated in favor of less-effective, noneducational sanctions simply for the purpose of moving cases out of the system quickly. With criminal justice continuing to abandon any effective response to retail theft, we saw this as a freight train coming down the tracks, poised to hit the retail industry.

There is no doubt that a focus on education—versus the traditional reliance on criminal justice—is a paradigm shift for the industry. We knew the change wouldn’t happen overnight, but also knew it was the best way to mitigate the impact of the coming freight train.

EDITOR: You mention a “freight train” headed for the industry. Can you expound on what you mean?

STAIB: The freight train is the confluence of issues that so many of you have heard us talking about. A confluence sparked by a national focus on reducing incarceration. We have forty-plus states who’ve raised their felony threshold, with police putting limits on responding to shoplifting calls and prosecutors flat out writing, and worse yet, publishing policies that they will not prosecute misdemeanor retail theft. This creates a situation wherein much of criminal justice reform is happening squarely on the backs of retailers.

EDITOR: When did the idea of a coalition come to be?

KOCHMAN: While we continued to do all that we could with criminal justice, we knew that in the current environment, it would never be enough. We knew we needed industry leaders and influencers who would recognize the magnitude and urgency of the situation. In the first half of 2019, we invited multiple loss prevention pyramid heads and other industry executives to join the NASP retail advisory committee to guide our efforts and engage other retailers in an industry-wide effort to respond to and mitigate the inevitable impact of the issues at hand. This group also became the foundation of the coalition, the result of a belief that retail AP is more effective as whole rather than as isolated actors, that their collective voice and collective resources can impact the future and create commercially sustainable social impact for all.

To bring this to the forefront and gain additional support, Mike Lamb, Scott Glenn, and Paul Jones presented a breakout session at the RILA Asset Protection Conference in Denver in May 2019. Their presentation laid out the need for retailers to take a more active role in reducing recidivism by shifting from a reliance on the criminal justice system to that of an education-focused system. This resonated with many and created a buzz. It was from there that the coalition really came to life.

EDITOR: Mike, at this point in your career, why have you decided to reexamine and embrace the value of education for offenders?

Mike Lamb

LAMB: From my viewpoint, a number of factors have resulted in a deeper examination of the benefits of education versus prosecution for first-time and low-level offenders. The sobering realization that our current criminal justice system is under tremendous pressure and constraints, combined with criminal justice reform, is at the forefront of this issue in my opinion. Understanding that recidivism rates are significantly lower through education versus prosecution also resonated profoundly for me. Finally, the notion of doing the right thing for the citizens in the communities in which we serve by allowing first-time and low-level offenders the avoidance of the potential for a criminal record conviction just feels like the right thing to do.

EDITOR: Why is it critical to the retail industry as a whole?

LAMB: With theft on the rise for retailing and the negative impact it’s creating, which in my opinion is significantly influenced by increasing felony thresholds and a criminal justice system that is not designed to effectively address the issue, we will not materially impact this problem in the absence of alternative thinking, strategies, and actions. Let’s face it—doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome is not the answer.

EDITOR: How does investing in education balance and enhance your investments in hardening the target?

LAMB: In my opinion, the scale is significantly over-weighted on investments that enhance detection and/or prevention rather than education; at least that’s been my focus as an AP leader, unfortunately. This emphasis on “balancing” only makes sense to me because the idea is that all retailers benefit from education that minimizes repeat occurrences of theft across the board. To the extent that we only focus on prevention and detection, we simply shift the problem from retailer to retailer. Balancing education with prevention and detection supports a broader solution for all.

EDITOR: What is the value of involvement to Kroger as a whole? Is it just about AP, or is it of value to the wider organization?

LAMB: As I mentioned earlier, it’s about doing the right thing. That applies to our AP organization, our company, and the communities and customers we serve.

EDITOR: Paul, over the past several years there have been other programs aimed at reducing repeat shoplifting. How is the coalition different from previous initiatives?

Paul Jones

JONES: What really sets it apart is this is a public-private, nonprofit partnership with a reputable, long-standing nonprofit organization. The coalition is different as it takes the leading expert in this space—NASP—and collaborates directly with retailers and law enforcement to tailor a program that works for everyone.

EDITOR: What are the circumstances that have led to this new initiative?

JONES: We currently have a justice system that is overburdened and disposing of retail theft cases at an alarming rate. Some have gone to no prosecutions at all, leaving retailers with no appropriate resolution. No prosecution and no consequence results in more repeat offenders and more offenders escalating to ORC. We have organized retail crime (ORC) rates continuing to rise. Imagine fewer shoplifters because we offered crime-specific education. This would mean less shrink for retailers and fewer law enforcement hours applied to petty theft, which hopefully will allow our law enforcement partners to address the growing trend of ORC.

EDITOR: Why do you think NASP is the right organization to partner with? What do they bring to the table others do not?

JONES: They are a 501(c)(3) provider and have over thirty years of experience dedicated to this cause, working with both retailers and criminal justice on solutions proven to reduce recidivism. Their education programs have been studied and have produced leading-edge results in helping offenders. More importantly, they are laser-focused. In my twenty-year association with NASP, I have never seen them stray from their mission to use education to change lives, restore communities, reduce shrink, and improve safety. While at first that feels a little “earthy, crunchy” for an old LP guy like me, it is proven. It provides a solid foundation for this effort and is more timely now than ever.

NASP’s role in this effort will be to execute the coalition priorities and programs. They are best equipped to do this because of their direct connection to and their position of trust in criminal justice, their brand, and reputation. They are not a fly-by-night group looking to make a fast buck. They have a long history, and their programs are proven to change behavior and improve lives.

EDITOR: Rhett, your support of NASP goes back to your days at RILA and has been a steady presence since. What is the root of your passion?

Rhett Asher

ASHER: During my early days with RILA, I happened to be walking the floor of another tradeshow and met Peter Berlin. We had a wonderful conversation, and I really felt like we connected. Not only did he take an interest in my career, but also he shared his vision and the mission of NASP with me. The man was so passionate about the way he viewed our industry, it’s challenges with shoplifting, and how he thought NASP’s efforts were the right way to help both retailers and the communities they thrived in. After that conversation, I was hooked.

You see, I have worked in many facets of retail my whole life, and I have seen what shoplifting does to our industry and, at the ground floor, what it does to offenders and their families. There has to be a more holistic approach to this problem, and it starts with all of us. I love the retail industry and strive to give back to it every day. This is why I am so passionate about the efforts of NASP. Its mission aims at the very root of the shoplifting problem by driving down recidivism through the educating of our youth, families, and communities about the damage it can cause and ultimately lowering shrink and driving up profits for our retailers.

EDITOR: Do you think offender education can be a game changer?

ASHER: Absolutely. I believe that once this effort begins to reach the masses through broader adoption by retailers, and our communities start to hear a consistent message of care and understanding with the offering of education versus incarceration for first-time youth and other offenders, it will lead to many positives for retailers even beyond increased sales and lower theft, not to mention the strengthening of brand loyalty and community relations. When you stop a shoplifter from becoming a professional, you not only impact your own bottom line but also the health of the community and change the trajectory of a young life. It is certainly a game-changer for that young life.

EDITOR: How is ThinkLP supporting the coalition and why?

ASHER: In addition to supporting my role as cochair of the NASP advisory committee, ThinkLP is currently exploring ways to assist NASP with their overall technological structure in an effort to make it a much smoother and efficient process to facilitate better industry-wide collaboration. Our hope is to make the NASP organization the best it can be in support of these overall efforts. ThinkLP is committed to the 1-1-1 pledge, which means donating at least 1 percent of our annual profits, 1 percent of our time, and 1 percent of our products and resources to not-for-profit organizations, both globally and locally. Our goal is to be a responsible organization that we can be proud of, and we want to support and share that with the industry.

EDITOR: John, how do you see the coalition impacting the fact that the criminal justice system is increasingly ignoring misdemeanor offenders?

John Matas

MATAS: The system today is also downplaying some retail felony offenses as well. This is a slippery slope. We want the criminal justice system to understand that retail theft is a major and continually growing problem that needs attention, and courts and law enforcement cannot deflect accountability.

EDITOR: Do you believe the initiative could play a role is how retailers and local law enforcement collaborate in addressing shoplifting?

MATAS: This issue is less about law enforcement and more about the judicial system. Law enforcement, for the most part, are just as frustrated by criminal reform as retailers. The real collaboration must take place with criminal justice. Make first-time shoplifting offenses officially part of any court diversion or intervention program. The shoplifter pays any fines, pays restitution and civil demand, satisfies any community service, pays for their own offender education, and stays out of trouble for an extended period of time in order to get their record sealed. The offender must take ownership and feel accountable for their actions.

EDITOR: What impact could this program play in focusing more on ORC versus casual offenders?

MATAS: The ORC phenomenon continues to grow and expand exponentially because it is a high-reward, low-risk business. Low-level shoplifting is growing because it has become a high-reward, no-risk business. ORC operates on a much higher level that education cannot impact. However, this coalition is a great opportunity to create accountability to the casual offender and hopefully prevent them from moving into ORC.

EDITOR: Frank, you have been supportive of shoplifter education for quite some time. Why is that?

Frank Johns

JOHNS: I believe that continuing to apprehend shoplifters is a useless endeavor, especially if we are not taking the action proven to change the offender’s behavior. I believe that if we want to change behavior, we as a retail industry need to develop ideas that educate and reform the process of apprehension and prosecution. Apprehension in today’s environment is dangerous for both LP and store associates, customers, and the shoplifter. What bad could happen if we start looking to break that cycle through education?

EDITOR: Frank, do you believe retailers have a social and corporate responsibility to educate youthful offenders?

JOHNS: Retailers have a responsibility to provide a safe environment for our customers and our associates in the store. Education and rehabilitation are processes that are a win-win for everyone. Whether you call it social or corporate responsibility is not what is important; it is the right thing to do. That is why it is important to everyone—employees, customers, law enforcement, parents, and particularly the child who commits the crime.

EDITOR: How can the coalition enhance the loss prevention program and the overall retail brand?

JOHNS: I think education programs, particularly in schools and at home, with tools for parents on how to approach the issue with the children are important. Law enforcement naturally plays a part with education programs implemented in schools and by parents. Adding retailers and retail solutions providers as partners offering funding and collateral education materials that can be consistent in all retailers and communities would be beneficial. Branding retailers with the partnership with NASP brings all retailers into alignment around education and delivers a consistent message to law enforcement and the criminal justice community.

EDITOR: Can this initiative impact the safety of store employees and customers?

JOHNS: It does on a regular basis. Removing the criminal element from the retail store environment provides a safer place to shop and work. Many associates and customers in retailers over the years have been seriously injured or killed. Reducing this risk will be a huge benefit to everyone. As an industry, we need all the tools we can get to fight this. We need to put the focus on education to prevent escalation and repeat offenses over the long run. The practice of apprehension with just a warn-and-release only encourages repeat offenses.

EDITOR: Paul, you were involved with a program at your previous company that helped reduce calls to police and provided first-time offenders a second chance? Describe the value of that program and how this new initiative is different.

Paul Jaeckle

JAECKLE: The value of this program, and one of the main differences I see, is this is being addressed as a uniform problem for the retail industry, the law enforcement community, and the court system, regardless of who the retailer is or where they operate. This coalition is connecting several retailers to make sure the solutions and offender training being provided have retailers’ interests at heart because we are the victims.

Additionally, this aligns to the policies and laws in each municipality, community, or state. It also forces a deep look to ensure that the education attacks the root of the shoplifting problem in order to truly reduce recidivism and not just force repeat offender behavior at another retailer. NASP and this coalition are trying to carry the voice for retailers against the real issue of shoplifting and this current epidemic.

EDITOR: Why is it important to have an initiative that allows retailers to collaborate and invest in the use of education to address shoplifting?

JAECKLE: Retailers invest in their stores to deter shoplifting activity and force the behavior somewhere else. What is underleveraged is the long-term deterrent to keep a shoplifter from repeating the crime at any retailer. Shoplifting is often seen as a nuisance crime in a community, and a burden on law enforcement and the court system, and ultimately the taxpayer and consumer. The retailer is a victim in this situation. However, we, as loss prevention and asset protection professionals, have a responsibility to control and solve it, and that should mean more than just forcing the behavior elsewhere. The focus should be on trying to solve the epidemic at its root.

EDITOR: Do you believe offender education can have a positive impact on a retailer’s bottom line and community image?

JAECKLE: Yes, when handled the right way. All too often, courts have varying penalties and/or court-ordered programs for offenders that may not target the right objectives to deter repeat offenses. It’s like sending a habitual drunken driver to a class designed for those who’ve received speeding tickets. They are both driving offenses that impact driving status and can be criminal in nature but are very different driving offenses. Teaching someone how to manage speed and the effects it has on safety, insurance costs, points to your licenses, and so forth, are all the same, but sometimes the alcohol-related offenses are driven by a deeper illness that requires different treatment. This is how shoplifting offender education should work.

The coalition is trying to create consistency around the root of the issue, agnostic of the court jurisdiction or retailers individually, in order to right the behavior—not just create awareness of how to treat repeat offenders. At the end of the day, most retailers are spending a lot of time, effort, and money to deter shoplifting, but the pool of offenders continues to grow.

It’s time to think about solving this problem together rather than as individuals with the same tactics that don’t make as much impact as desired. Fixing it would help retailers not be as invasive to paying customers, not overburden law enforcement and courtrooms, better correct individuals’ behavior, and avoid potential future criminal activity that often originates with shoplifting.

EDITOR: Scott, do you believe this initiative could have an impact on how some misdemeanor offenders evolve to ORC?

Scott Glenn

GLENN: I think this initiative will be beneficial for retailers most affected by casual or low-level offenders. I am skeptical of the impact on ORC or professional offenders. That said, I am supportive of the initiative as a whole. However, the ability to head off those causal offenders and get them the education or treatment that they need is critical, and that is where the coalition will have an impact.

EDITOR: Could the coalition play a role in how retailers and local law enforcement collaborate in addressing shoplifting?

GLENN: I support anything we can do to bridge the understanding gap between law enforcement and retailers. However, I think we have to be cautious and temper our expectations that law enforcement and the criminal justice system will all of a sudden see the light and go all in on retail crime.

EDITOR: What impact could this program play in allowing retailers to focus more on ORC versus casual offenders?

GLENN: I think this is where the value lies. Taking valuable loss prevention resources out of stores for court proceedings is a significant drain on efficiency. Keeping our teams focused on those offenders that cause the most proportionate damage is the focus of my organization today.

EDITOR: Kevin, you have been a very vocal supporter of NASP for a very long time. What is your connection to their mission, and why do you believe in this Coalition?

Kevin McMenimen

MCMENIMEN: My experience with NASP goes back to my earlier days in retail, more than twenty-plus years ago, when I remember reading the Peter Berlin report like it was the bible of loss prevention. I even posted them on our stores’ shortage awareness boards hoping to share that knowledge and enlighten store associates to the impact they could have on shrink, theft, and safety. The bulk of my career since my days in law enforcement, and in retail, has been spent focused on helping retailers communicate, share information, educate, and train, so my alignment with NASP has always been very natural.

I very much believe in NASP’s mission and their efforts to impact behavior through education, offering an individual an opportunity to make a better life for themselves and for their families. I am especially a fan of their work with youthful offenders who make a mistake, helping them realize the error in their ways, and understanding that it does not have to define them or commit them to a life in this broken system we all refer to, but rather provide the opportunity to make better choices in life and do the right thing going forward.

I also believe very strongly in their efforts as a nonprofit organization. This is not a group who is driven by corporate profits but rather by doing the right thing. They were a big influence in the days of starting the Loss Prevention Foundation when, as one of the cofounders of that organization, we put in tireless hours in developing programs, not for the money, but because it was the right thing to do. We also structured that initiative as a nonprofit to give back to the industry and pay it forward in providing education and opportunity to LP professionals around the world. It makes a difference, I think, when you have groups of people coming together like this, donating their time to put toward initiatives like the NASP education and now the coalition because they know it is important and believe in it enough to support it and see it succeed.

EDITOR: You are a solution provider today, albeit with retail experience. What will you be able to bring to the table in supporting the coalition?

MCMENIMEN: As I mentioned, the bulk of my career is in designing communication systems and developing educational programs. I have worked with NASP on several projects, including updating their shoplifting education, creating shoplifting awareness materials, and developing courses to address internal theft. To truly be successful and to remain impactful and relevant, these course and resources must always evolve, whether it is to be more accessible, based on changes in technology, or to be current in message or even in format as “how we learn” has changed dramatically over the last several years. It is imperative that if the coalition is going to be supporting these education initiatives, that these resources need to be accessible and impactful. The LPM Media Group team and I have committed to the coalition to help support NASP in ensuring just that. It is our goal to help ensure that NASP has the support to optimize content and communication channels while integrating with internal systems to track, maintain, and measure results.

EDITOR: If you were to sum up today’s interviews, in explaining and promoting support for this new coalition, what would you say?

MCMENIMEN: Get involved. This is the right thing to do as an industry, to come together and to work together to address this problem with a proven solution. We know education works and has an impact on recidivism.

This is the right thing to do and the right time to do it. We have shoplifting and ORC on the rise, safety in our stores in jeopardy, a broken judicial system that, in so many ways, is working against us rather than for us. The days of working in silos to protect our individual brands has passed. We need to work together. It is the right opportunity and the right time to work together as an industry to make a difference. This coalition represents a new legacy for those who will follow. Reach out and get involved.

For more information about the coalition, email coalition (at) shopliftingprevention.org.

NASP Board of Advisors

Rhett Asher, Cochair
Vice President, Strategy, ThinkLP

Chief Anthony Canale (Ret.)
Vice President, Verisk Crime Analytics

Scott Glenn, EJD, LPC
Vice President, Asset Protection, The Home Depot

Paul Jaeckle, LPC
Vice President, Asset Protection, Meijer Stores

Frank Johns, LPC
Chairman, The Loss Prevention Foundation

Paul Jones, LPC, Cochair
Director, Loss Prevention and E-commerce Fraud, The Vitamin Shoppe

Michael Lamb, LPC
Vice President, Asset Protection, The Kroger Co.

Jim Lee, LPC
Executive Editor, LP Magazine

Julius Lewis
Police Officer, Elk Grove (CA) Police Department

John Matas, Jr., CFE, CFCI
Vice President of Profit Protection, Investigations, Fraud, and ORC, Macy’s

Kevin McMenimen, LPC
Chief Operating Officer. LPM Media Group

Walter Palmer, CFI
Executive Vice President, CAP Index

Mark Stinde, MBA, LPC
Senior Vice President, Asset Protection, JCPenney

Terry Sullivan, LPC
President, The Loss Prevention Foundation

Jack Trlica
Managing Editor, LP Magazine

Pamela Velose
Vice President, Asset Protection and Safety, Belk

John J. Zebrowski
Chief of Police, Sayreville (NJ) Police Department

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