How Can LP Manage Shoplifting More Effectively?

Sponsored by Crime Accountability Partnership

All loss prevention departments have an existing system to handle shoplifting incidents. And with everything new on LP’s plate—technology, threats, retail strategies, and the like—there is a good chance that it’s been a while since you’ve taken a critical look at your current approach. But if you did, you might just find a better way of doing things. The same technology that is helping to alleviate an overburdened court system can help ease a LP department’s daily chore of managing small shoplifting offenses.

An Old Problem. If you were to create a criminal justice system from scratch, you probably would not replicate the system we have today. Handling all cases in a like manner seems equitable, but the sheer volume of small crimes makes it hard to sustain. And an overwhelmed system is unfair to all—offenders as well as victims.

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Lohra Miller, CEO and founder of Turning Point Justice (TPJ), a loss prevention cloud technology company, saw that inefficiency firsthand during her long career as a prosecutor and a district attorney in Salt Lake County, UT. Her very first case was a shoplifting trial—and so was the last case she prosecuted two decades later.

“I started my career with a jury trial in a shoplifting case. It was a shoplifter who had committed a first-time offense, and was an all-day trial for $20 worth of merchandise, taking up the resources of a prosecutor, a judge, and a jury,” said Miller. “Fast forward 20 years, and my last case was prosecuting someone who had 22 shoplifting arrests, but hadn’t been convicted in many of those because cases had been dismissed when witnesses didn’t show up.”

Those two cases, at the bookends of Miller’s career, reflect the broader problem facing our criminal justice system. Small crimes take up enormous resources while doing little to deter repeat offenders. “The system is bogged down and the problem of repeat offenders has gotten worse.”

Although the problem’s scale can make it seem intractable, Miller saw technology as an opportunity to cut through the morass. A lot of information that was previously accessible only to law enforcement was now available. There just needed to be a platform that allowed everyone to tap into it.

A New Approach. “From a prosecutor’s point of view, I knew what needed to happen and what needed to go into the system. But we had to make it work within the LP field,” explained Miller, who employed developers to engineer the technology and allied with LP professionals to ensure its utility. “Collaboration in the development stage was critical to get an end product that works for retailers.”

The cloud-based technology that Miller and her TPJ team developed provides the platform for processing offenders in the Crime Accountability Partnership Program, a diversion program in conjunction with the National Association of Shoplifting Prevention that unites retailers, the courts, and law enforcement. This type of diversion program, sometimes offered though the courts, is extended pre-charge through the program. Eligible offenders who choose to participate reimburse retailers at a fair value and undergo education to reduce the likelihood of re-offending.

Two important challenges that the technology was careful to meet include the ability to integrate with retailers’ existing case management systems and the ability to feed cases to civil demand companies if an offender rejects or is ineligible for the education program, according to Miller.

Processing time was also a consideration, according to Paul Jones, TPJ’s chief operating officer and former executive director of global asset protection for eBay. Victim retailers can correctly identify an individual as a petty offender and qualify him or her for the program in about 20 minutes, he said. “The technology is intuitive,” added Miller. “The way it’s designed reduces the amount of time that it takes to produce a case report and handle the incident—and quickly gets agents back out on the floor.”

The program can be met with initial hesitation on the part of LP departments, according to Miller. After all, it requires a willingness on their part to take a fresh crack at an old problem. But TPJ technology rewards those that take the leap by simplifying aspects of managing petty shoplifting cases. Among the benefits:

  • Consistency. TPJ’s technology overlays local and state law with a retailer’s policies to generate a checklist of questions that store agents use to process offenders. “It puts those rules into the system and applies them to all of their agents across the retail organization, so you get more uniform handling of cases,” explained Miller. The customization piece is critical to accommodate the discrepancies among thousands of different jurisdictions, according to Jones.
  • Quality. Derived from how a retailer wants its case narratives to read, the system prompts agents to ask questions in a way that builds the narrative as they process offenders. At the conclusion, with a click of a mouse, agents can generate a report from the Q&A in a traditional narrative format. If any mandatory information is missing—required by either the retailer or the jurisdiction—then agents are prompted to complete it to ensure that it is included in the case narrative. This “narrative generator” feature is proving a big hit with retailers, according to Miller. “One of the problems we faced was facilitating a consistent, quality narrative, so we developed a tool to improve the quality of the reports.”
  • Speed. One new feature of the system that is already proving helpful to retailers is the ability to more quickly input data about merchandise that is part of a shoplifting case. Instead of manually inputting information about each item into the case management system, retailers can simply ring up a no-sale receipt at POS and scan all the items at issue. Information on each item is then automatically imported into the case management system. “We have an aggressive development team and we’re continuing to improve the system as agents and account managers make suggestions,” said Miller.

The technology helps streamline management of small shoplifting cases, but the real goal is bigger. It acts as a hub for the partnership between police, prosecutors, and retailers, including the creation of a single, shareable, prosecutable report of the incident and an automatic distribution of relevant reports to appropriate stakeholders.

The goal of the technology is broad indeed: unclogging the nation’s courts by changing the way that petty shoplifting cases are handled. “It’s something brand new,” says Miller. “It asks retailers to adopt a new way of looking at the problem and to take that leap of faith that we can actually make a difference.”

Sears was the first major retailer to give TPJ’s technology a go. “I’ll never forget: after they went through testing, they asked me, ‘What do you think you’re going to do, change the world?’ And I said, ‘Yes, that is exactly what we’re trying to do.’”

After the initial testing, Sears asked Miller what, exactly, she was asking for. “I said, ‘Give me 20 stores and I’ll prove it works,” said Miller. “They thought that was a brave, big ask, but I told them, ‘You don’t change the world by asking for small things.’” From those proof-of-concept stores back in 2013, TPJ’s technology is now helping to alternatively manage shoplifting cases in more than 2,000 stores, including Walmart—and making steady progress on its goal to change the world.

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