With over 40 years of experience in law enforcement, loss prevention, and as an adjunct professor, one could simply assume Karl Langhorst is passionate about retail crime. After working with him for seven months, I can tell you his passion runs deep. We have had many thoughtful conversations about the state of our industry, and what follows are his thoughts in his own words on a topic we have discussed often. I agree with Langhorst — we can continue to cry “no fair” or we can do something. It’s our choice.
Legislation Can’t Be Treated Like a Silver Bullet
Frustrations are mounting for retailers of all sizes, all across the country. In addition to the quantifiable changes like an uptick in theft and monetary losses, retailers report a rise in the brazen nature and violence of ORC offenders, as well as a lack of accountability to stem the tide of recidivism.
Unfortunately, with continued economic strain in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and local laws that deprioritize prosecution for shoplifting, this trend is unlikely to turn around on its own.
It’s not uncommon to see loss prevention leaders and advocates calling for enhanced legislation on organized retail crime (ORC) — sometimes as the only possible solution. Though I agree ORC laws should be reviewed regularly and enhanced as needed, I’ve also been around long enough to know that these efforts have been going on for many years with varied success.
Making the Most of Current Laws
Instead of looking at new laws as if they are a silver bullet, it’s time for retailers, law enforcement, and prosecutors to partner and make the most of the protections available under the current statutes. After all, if foundational issues related to business and law enforcement relationships, law enforcement and prosecution resources, and evidence collection aren’t addressed, no amount of legislation will overcome these problems.
This is called making lemonade from loss prevention lemons, a skill some forward‑thinking asset protection experts have already sharpened in some of the country’s most embattled cities.
Getting on the Same Page
The first step to improve prosecution outcomes—and, therefore, create safer communities with less recidivism — is to connect with your local prosecutor’s office and law enforcement. In-store staff are under pressure every day, but a communication barrier between equally busy groups can signal a lack of interest to take this issue seriously, inevitably slowing the judicial process and potentially creating animosity.
For example, members of the justice system often lament the struggles they have when working with retailers. When building a case, they might receive incomplete incident reports, insufficient data on repeat offenders, or improper witness statements. This isn’t the fault of in-store staff members, they just don’t have the expertise to know what to do.
That knowledge gap also extends to prosecution. In some cases, witnesses don’t know how to make themselves available for follow-up statements to aid the investigation. When a case makes it to court, they may not know how to handle subpoenas or may become overwhelmed with the court’s process.
Additionally, calls from law enforcement investigators and prosecutors to retail AP staff can go unanswered, leading to case dismissals. This sends a message to offenders that there are no consequences for their actions.
From the Inside Out
To start moving in the right direction, we need to work together on getting the most of the laws we currently have. Retail AP leaders need to take a very focused look at their internal processes as they relate to reporting criminal activity, then develop a well-defined strategy and staffing model to support law enforcement and prosecutors as they navigate from the initial report to the courtroom.
This might mean reconsidering what AP’s “work” includes. The best solution might be out of your comfort zone — but that’s okay. For some large retailers, it might include tapping your legal department to expand its expertise to criminal law so that the legal department can support cases in areas of the country where prosecution is an uphill battle.
Additional “boots on the ground” AP resources might also be necessary in challenging markets to collect evidence needed for prosecution and to guide cases throughout the investigation and prosecution process. These resources would work in addition to and in alignment with the ORC team, on the ground, in each market, developing relationships and responding to each incident.
We should continue to apply pressure on our government officials to take a more proactive approach to crime and ORC legislation. However, it’s possible to make an impact in the battle against ORC today using existing laws. Let’s take a long look in the mirror and ask ourselves how we can better support local officials in holding offenders accountable.