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Building an Organized Retail Crime Team

Editor’s Note: Organized retail crime remains an ongoing challenge for loss prevention programs across the country. The following article excerpt provides a historical account on this national dilemma.

When we wanted to build an ORC team, the first thing we did was conduct a full diagnostic of our current structure. We established a data-collection process to identify crime patterns, searched for the right investigative talent, explored the right technology, produced educational material, and started networking with law enforcement. Running an organized retail crime department was more complex than we first thought. We clearly needed to develop a comprehensive organized retail crime strategy that addressed the right issues.

Our strategy was comprised of eight key components—mall operations, fence operations, cyber crimes, education, supply chain, legal, legislative, and law enforcement partnerships. Following is a brief description of each component.

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Mall Operations. Based on intelligence and data analysis, our investigators conduct surveillances to identify professional shoplifters targeting our stores. Once they identify a crew, they will observe them stealing and continue the surveillance out of our store and to the vehicle. Once the crew has filled their van with stolen product, law enforcement, which has already been notified, apprehends the entire crew in their vehicle.

Fence Operations. We devote a lot of time and energy to fence operations because we know that we can really disrupt the supply-and-demand equation at this point. Putting the fence out of business accomplishes many objectives—no fence means no customers and no one to whom the shoplifting crews can sell their merchandise. We locate fences in many different ways, including tips from informants, associates, and friends, investigator shops, and information from law enforcement.

Cyber Crimes. Fences are not restricted to just brick-and-mortar locations, but also exist online. The crews usually receive 25 percent of a stolen item’s value from the fence. The fence usually sells the product for 50 percent of the value, but items can go for about 70 percent of their value on auction sites, where sellers have relative anonymity. Our investigators diligently match large known theft reports to online auction sales looking for leads.

Supply Chain. Our ORC team works in close partnership with our supply-chain LP team because we have learned that the same fence who sells stolen cargo also sells stolen goods from our stores.

Education. We are passionate about education, not only within our own organization, but within the entire retail industry as well as the law enforcement community. One of our first educational projects was a law enforcement information guide. We also sponsor and conduct organized retail crime training and seminars for law enforcement.

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Legislation. We work closely with our government affairs department as well as trade organizations to help educate politicians on the value of ORC legislation.

Legal. We deploy a dual legal strategy. On the criminal side, when we apprehend professional shoplifters or shut down fences, we want to ensure that they receive the maximum penalty, including restitution. Clearly there is a value to putting these criminals out of business. On the civil side, we want to make our company whole, so we also sue for damages.

Law Enforcement Partnerships. The ORC team works hard to develop great partnerships with law enforcement. Without them, we can’t stop vehicles, raid fences, or obtain subpoenas for Internet records.

This article was excerpted from “Setting the Stage for an Organized Retail Crime Strategy” and was updated November 28, 2016. 

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