Once you catch a shoplifter, what do you do with them? Do you prosecute and risk the wrath of the local police department and media for creating an undue burden on the system or, in some communities, even risk monetary fines for “unfair and disproportionate use” of police resources? Do you warn and release them knowing it will not only do little to prevent a repeat offense but also likely empower them to steal again? Do you use civil demand, which also holds little promise in changing behavior? Or do you try and do what is best for all parties and offer them—with the blessing of the local police and prosecutors—an alternative, education-centric program?
In a good-faith effort to address complaints surrounding the overuse of police resources, many retailers are embracing alternative programs that offer education as a means to hold offenders accountable and reduce repeat offenses without overburdening law enforcement and other criminal-justice resources. Unfortunately, they are now facing political and legal challenges to these nontraditional but valuable options. Seemingly lost in the political and legal wrangling is the fact that such alternatives will not only relieve the “overuse of police resources” pain point but also begin to close the long-standing gaps in the current system that have led to the ongoing proliferation of retail theft.
In the current construct, the gaps left between apprehension, arrest, prosecution, and sentencing allow the offenders to get away with it and end up empowering them to offend again—having “learned” that the reward was worth the risk. With shrinking resources and competing priorities on the rise, those gaps continue to widen, and while the various entities bicker and blame, retail theft in all its many forms continues to thrive. In order to close those gaps—gaps that only serve to promote the growth of both shoplifting and professional or organized retail crime (ORC)—it is imperative that retailers and communities unite to battle the common enemy. It is not just the offenders we must confront but also the community complacence that leads to the acceptance and growth of retail theft.
The Game Changer
The Crime Accountability Partnership (C.A. Partnership) program is designed to marshal the forces and provide them collectively with a means to close the gaps in the system without undue time or expense for any one entity. With a keen eye to curbing the inevitable challenges that result from disrupting the status quo, the policies and procedures of the C.A. Partnership are ever evolving to meet each new challenge, mitigate any risk, and build partnerships that will indeed close the gaps between stakeholders. Of paramount importance is the guarantee that the alternative education-based program meets the needs of all parties involved—from retailers to law enforcement to criminal justice and community—and even those of the offenders. While state law and local regulations are foremost, the C.A. Partnership ensures that law enforcement authorities in each jurisdiction have the opportunity to provide input and oversight in the execution of the program in their jurisdictions.
Faced with competing priorities for police resources coupled with the constant barrage of offenders in their stores, retailers need a better way to handle these petty offenders. Providing an educational option for offenders who qualify and choose to participate allows them not only to examine their own behavior but also to build their competency to make better choices for themselves in the future. With juvenile offenders, the C.A. Partnership allows LP agents to turn a negative interaction with a parent—who is likely a customer—into a positive learning experience for their child.
Serving Law Enforcement and Saving Criminal-Justice Resources
Police resources, like so many publicly funded resources, are limited. Of late, there has been a focus on retailers’ overuse of these resources, which is ironic and unfair but nonetheless a pain point. Retailers who participate in the C.A. Partnership have successfully reduced their calls to local law enforcement by 40 to 60 percent or more and by extension have saved more than $100 million in offender-processing costs of criminal-justice resources.
Yes, you read that right. With a nationwide priority on reducing incarceration for low-level offenses, there is a corresponding effort to decriminalize petty crime including shoplifting. Allowing, supporting, and even legislating retailers’ use of the C.A. Partnership program to offer education to first-time offenders, especially youthful and young adult offenders, is a far better option to address shoplifting than decriminalization—either outright or de facto. Education is a first line of defense in the fight to keep young people—for whom shoplifting is often their first foray into criminal behavior—from entering the criminal justice system. The C.A. Partnership uses the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention’s (NASP) Y.E.S. Program for Youth, which is proven not only to reduce shoplifting among youth but also to reduce their involvement in juvenile crime in general—a clear benefit to any community and its youth.
Stopping the Revolving Door
Even with all the benefits to the various stakeholders, such a program cannot become a revolving door for offenders. The C.A. Partnership is a one-time chance for everyone to choose to take civil responsibility for their actions. To ensure this, Turning Point Justice’s (TPJ) technology provides a means to begin to track repeat offenders across retailers and jurisdictions providing an invaluable intelligence and investigative tool for ORC and police investigators alike.
Stemming the Tide
A collaboration between NASP and TPJ, the Crime Accountability Partnership is an innovative yet collaborative solution to address the age-old shoplifting problem that, even with the most sophisticated measures in place, continues to grow and evolve. While there will always be ebb and flow of shoplifting in our nation, education and accountability offer the best promise to stem the tide of retail-theft offenders. Reducing repeat offenses provides everyone with the opportunity to focus more resources on identifying and tracking those who are indeed professional offenders yet, in the current system, are falling through the gaps and flying under the ORC radar.
Offered free of charge to retailers and their law enforcement partners, the Crime Accountability Partnership program is truly a partnership and a collaboration in which no single entity’s priorities trump another’s and one in which all entities contribute effort and reap benefit in equal measure. This is the future of truly effective shoplifting prevention.