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Does Retail Asset Protection Have an Image Problem in Communities?

Sponsored by the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention (NASP)

All too often, we find that the community perception is that the asset protection (or loss prevention) department’s sole role and responsibility is to protect product and the bottom line. But asset protection is as much “people protection” as it is “goods protection.” It is really community protection.

Teams take care of customers, associates, and any member of the public who wanders into a store in so many ways.

- Digital Partner -
  • When a person is in your stores, who is responsible for their safety and welfare?
  • Who is there to attend and assist them if they fall ill?
  • Who is always watching for potential safety issues and threats of all kinds—especially those of a violent nature?
  • When an issue or potential threat in a community is identified, to whom does the responsibility fall to work with authorities to protect consumers and community and minimize the impact of those threats, both inside and outside your walls?

With the incredible depth and breadth of the responsibilities that come under the industry’s umbrella, it is unfortunate that the public has little understanding of all the industry does to protect the community far beyond catching shoplifters. The criminal justice community often has more misunderstanding than understanding of the industry’s role in stores—and by extension, the community. Thus, it is essential that awareness about all that the industry does is raised up to meet the reality.

Just in the last 20 years, the industry has had to formulate plans to protect stores, consumers and communities in scenarios ranging from an outbreak of bird flu (that thankfully never came to be) to making the countless adjustments required in a post-9/11 world, where cars are weapons, and the threat of active shooters is commonplace.

Stepping into the 21st century, teams not only investigate cybercrime, but they provide or assist in overall cybersecurity to protect consumers’ personally identifiable data.

This is just a sampling of all that falls under asset protection, yet the outside perception is often that all the industry does is protect company assets and prevent the loss of merchandise and profit.

This perception could not be farther from the reality.

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Beyond a store’s four walls, teams protect, assist and interact with the community every day—and not just as the job requires. The very culture of AP is one of service to community, giving both time and money to community youth programs, supporting community health initiatives, and providing disaster relief—often before public resources and even first responders. These are but a few of the ways AP teams serve as good stewards of their communities.

Despite this, the industry continues to get a bad rap in the media, with the public and in the criminal justice community. Police and communities regularly rush to judgment and unfairly claim that retailers bring crime to communities and then use too many public resources to address it.

The truth is that the retail environment is a microcosm of a community at large, and the crime occurring in retail stores is a reflection of the crime in that community. A single big-box location is responsible for the safety and welfare of hundreds of associates and that of the more than one million customers who may come through their doors each year.

Naturally, it would appear that the retailer would be using a larger share of community resources than others. However, a closer look reveals that AP teams monitor and protect a larger microcosm of the community than any other entity—except maybe for the police themselves. Thus, their use of resources is not only proportionate to the number of people in their stores but mirrors the real levels of crime that exist in and around the community.

- Digital Partner -

Moreover, since crime rises to the level acceptable to the community, shoplifting and retail theft must be addressed as far more than a retail problem. Communities like to ignore the impact that rampant addiction and untreated mental health have on retailers. Moreover, lax community laws, policies, and responses promote rather than prevent repeat offenses and continue to contribute to increasing shoplifting and aggression among offenders. Retail crime is a socioeconomic problem for the entire community.

Preventing recidivism, improving safety and stemming the escalation of petty theft to ORC and violent offending requires a coordinated community response to prevent recidivism and the subsequent escalation of crime in communities. Retailers cannot do it alone.

The disturbing bottom line is that the industry seems to have an undeserved image problem: getting too much blame and not enough credit. Communities are uninformed about the depth of industry efforts beyond protecting assets and preventing loss. Community perception has not evolved as quickly as the job has not only evolved but also expanded into countless levels of protection. Protections aimed as much (or more) at the safety and welfare of consumers and communities as the safeguarding of products and profits.

The Loss Prevention Research Council has identified five zones of influence for the industry. Zone 5 is Community. Here, there is considerable opportunity to reverse misperceptions and polish up image to what it should be—to what the industry deserves and has earned many times over. Perception is not reality when it comes to community understanding of all that is asset protection, and no one knows this better than the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention (NASP).

All too often, the NASP court services team is subjected to and frustrated by its police, prosecutor, court and probation clients inaccurately assessing the industry’s motivations, responsibilities and point of view. While we use these opportunities to correct the misperceptions one by one, NASP has an independent voice that the AP industry can and should leverage on a more global basis.

  • As a neutral nonprofit organization, NASP provides an independent voice to underscore the need to address misunderstandings and disrupt competing forces that continue to pull retailers and criminal justice in opposite directions and create risk for retailers.
  • As an independent but vocal champion of the retail AP industry, NASP serves as an agent of change in promoting retail/community cooperation.
  • As the public voice of the shoplifting problem, NASP protects retail brands by serving as a driving-force to improve community understanding of the shoplifting problem.

So… does retail asset protection have an image problem in communities? In many cases, yes.

However, as we said, perception is not reality in this case; perception just needs to catch up with reality.

Let us help. Tell us where we can help make a difference for your team, your stores, and your brand.

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