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Brazen Retail Theft: What Can be Done About It?

It used to be that organized retail crime (ORC) boosters tried to be subtle about their larceny. Today, many don’t even try to hide their crimes.

Retailers who’ve been affected are understandably reluctant to talk about it. Now with customers and other witnesses recording these thieves in the act, along with the associated violence, the problem is finally drawing national media attention.

Camera phone footage, taken by customers from across the country, shows brazen thieves carrying armloads of merchandise off shelves and out the front door. They’re not deterred by employees, anti-theft devices, or being recorded. And private security guards watch helplessly as the thieves walk past them.

- Digital Partner -

The effects of this aren’t limited to just the product dollars lost. Employees, already in short supply due to the COVD-19 pandemic, are leaving their jobs out of fear. Customers—some caught in the stampede of criminals—are fearful to return to stores. Entire communities suffer as well when needed resources are forced to close because theft losses are too great.

The Unintended Outcome of the Pandemic, Legislation, Social Justice Responses, and Social Media

COVID-19 protocols opened the door for the brazen theft we’re seeing today. Mask mandates provided criminals with anonymity never previously enjoyed. When stores reopened, reductions in retail staff offered thieves unencumbered access to merchandise. The felony theft threshold in various states also increased due to overcrowded jails and backlogged courts.

In some cities, against the backdrop of these events, the response to the social justice movement provided additional incitement. Various politicians and media outlets called to reduce and repurpose law enforcement resources. And some district attorneys announced they wouldn’t prosecute shoplifters, and removed the minimal consequences they could face.

These factors combined to produce a perfect storm for the brazen retail theft we’re witnessing. And it’s not only theft: the violence level has also risen in proportion. According to a report, violence and fatalities in retail crime reached an all-time high last year. Over 500 employees, customers, private security, law enforcement, and suspects were killed in 2020.

Finally, social media platforms offer near-total anonymity for users, and all operate on mobile devices that offer the ability to create and administer private groups that block outside content searches. Identifying and infiltrating these groups online isn’t simple. Privacy laws—as well as the social media company’s own published standards—usually preclude assisting law enforcement without a court order. Although most possess algorithms that could be of assistance in alerting law enforcement of a planned event targeting a specific store or mall.

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What to Do About Brazen Retail Theft?

If you’re in an area with a high felony theft threshold, it can be difficult to get the police involved in investigating and prosecuting brazen retail theft. If you can prove that the theft from your store is not an isolated incident, but just one of the multiple companies hit by the same group of thieves, the value of the stolen goods will be significantly higher reaching felony theft levels. Doing this isn’t easy, but modern security software can help by making it easier to cooperate and share evidence.

An evidence management system such as Genetec Clearance makes it easy to share video files that are too large to email and ensures the chain of custody is documented. The platform can take video from any manufacturer and convert it to a format that can be shared and saved via browser. Unlimited cloud evidence storage allows authorized users to securely build large cases against organized retail crime organizations that can be easily shared with law enforcement and prosecutors.

Some major retail chains have dedicated organized retail crime teams who use security software technology to identify similar theft patterns across different stores. These predictive analytics can suggest potential locations and times of an ORC gang’s next target. Technology can also identify repeat perpetrators as well as the vehicles used in the thefts.

When security data is siloed in different systems, it can be hard to see how the pieces of the puzzle fit together. To make it easier for the loss prevention team to spot theft patterns and identify persons of interest, choose a unified security software solution that makes it easy to cross-reference data from video cameras, analytics, license plate recognition, and evidence sharing within a single interface.

- Digital Partner -

Collaboration Is Key

Ultimately, there are few strategies for retailers to proactively prevent brazen retail theft. Armed security guards can deter a potential flash mob theft but this may not be the image most retailers want to convey to consumers. Likewise, defensive merchandising can remove high-value products from easy theft, but at the cost of potential sales to valued customers. The best long-term strategy is to methodically gather evidence to indict on felony level charges. The need to collaborate with other retailers and law enforcement, and get these criminal organizations off the street, has never been higher.

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