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Can Retailers Be Better Victims?

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In the wake of Hurricane Florence, a local news crew captured the flagrant looting of a store in North Carolina.

Perhaps more relevant than the looting is the reaction to it.

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According to reports, the store asked the police not to respond to the ongoing looting. Worse, the police department did nothing to intervene.

While this was an extraordinary circumstance, this event is representative of the all too ordinary lack of appropriate community response to shoplifting and retail theft.

Before we go on, we want to be clear that this post is not a commentary on this particular event. None of us knows what motivated these decisions on that exceptional day. One could easily argue that it is responsible corporate citizenship to assist the police by preserving their limited resources under these extraordinary circumstances for life-threatening situations and rescue calls.

In a recent Wilson Times editorial about the events of that day, several statements made by the authors about the looting incident point directly to the impact of a rapidly growing tolerance for everyday retail theft in communities around the country:

  • “The looters may have been stealing private property, but their crime created a public disturbance. Officers didn’t need a store employee’s permission to do their jobs.”
  • “A lack of law enforcement breeds lawlessness and creates a dangerous environment for individuals and families.”
  • “By refusing to prosecute theft, the retail chain encourages rather than deters it.”

Unfortunately, this type of retailer response—or lack thereof—happens every day, and it has a major impact on store teams and the loss prevention boots on the ground. Many times, it’s a result of ill-advised, often politically motivated, policies that inform police responses to shoplifting every day in stores and communities around the nation. This type of story does not make the news because it happens quietly and without the media coverage of a natural disaster like Florence. However, it is no less damaging or irresponsible; it is no less a threat to safe stores and communities.

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When you compare this event and the resulting message to another theft event against a retailer that same day, you can see that the messages sent by the two stores (and their reactions) are vastly different. One message clearly stated that “crime isn’t welcome here” and the other seemed to be that “Not only will we do nothing to stop you from stealing, we’ll even ask the cops to look the other way.” We’ve speculated, “Which store is more likely to be victimized the next time around? And can you even call yourself a victim once you’ve become an accomplice?”

While seemingly absurd, the implications of the last question warrant the asset protection industry’s attention: “And can you even call yourself a victim once you’ve become an accomplice?”

While accomplice is not quite the right word, and the retailers are not alone in this, it is likely true that when store and criminal justice policies tolerate even the lowest level of theft, it encourages repeat offenses. What is most certainly true is that when police refuse to respond to a call from a retailer with an alleged offender in custody, offenders are emboldened to act again, by the now known lack of consequences.

While this opens up a much larger conversation, the immediate takeaway is never to allow policies—either police or your own—to make you an “accomplice.” It’s crucial to “be a better victim,” to quote Judge David Larson from this year’s Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) AP conference panel discussion “What’s a Retailer To Do?”

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Remember, your victim’s statement is your voice. Use it every time, for every case. Judge Larson noted in reference to the criminal justice system as a whole, “You guys are too easy on us.” He reminds us that the criminal justice imperative is to address crime to reduce repeat offenses. So too should it be the imperative of the retail loss prevention industry.

Pay attention to policies and policy changes, and never hesitate to exercise your right as the victim of crime, to hold the criminal justice system accountable for holding the offender accountable and preventing future crime.


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