Working in Loss Prevention Alongside Law Enforcement: Can It Be Done?

Those professionals working in loss prevention and those in law enforcement may benefit from taking a team approach.

working in loss prevention

For years, there have been those who have questioned whether retail loss prevention and law enforcement can effectively work in partnership with one another. Professionals working in loss prevention have often felt that law enforcement was unconcerned about helping them with their business. In reality, detectives may have been focusing on other pressing crimes, such as a rash of burglaries, sexual assaults, or other crimes against people.

Consider the aftermath of a grab-and-run incident. From a law enforcement perspective, the number of people who had access to a particular area when a loss occurs may be high, with little or no available means to identify the perpetrators. Some people believe that law enforcement has the ability to further clarify and zoom in on video already recorded to extract a better image. Some watch crime shows on TV and think that you can shine a special flashlight a certain way to find the fiber that helps solve the crime, or that a master database exists where you can enter information to gain instant access to a suspect’s life history and current location.

Such perceptions don’t always consider the hours spent trying to locate a person, and/or the effort necessary to get them to come in for an interview. Once the interview is completed, you may have a “feeling” they committed the crime, or were involved, but may not be able to develop the evidence necessary to prove it in court.

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I started my professional career working as a uniformed security officer. I did this for seven years. I spent twenty years in the retail loss prevention field as an associate, focusing on detaining shoplifting suspects in a retail environment, a loss prevention manager, a multi-unit district investigator/interviewer, and as a regional loss prevention manager for a quick-service restaurant chain. At one point in my career, I worked in retail loss prevention and law enforcement at the same time. Currently, I work solely as a law enforcement officer.

In my opinion, when retail loss prevention and law enforcement understand and respect each other as professionals, they can effectively work together and build tremendous working relationships. Retail loss prevention professionals base their decisions primarily from a business standpoint. They must follow company policy and do what’s best for the company. The primary function is to protect the company’s assets and reduce liability.

For example, while working in loss prevention, an employee may witness an individual concealing store merchandise. However, due to civil liabilities and company policy, they usually must follow the five steps of the apprehension process and wait until the person has passed all points of payment and failed to pay before making a detainment.

Once the shoplifter is detained and merchandise is recovered, the loss prevention associate must take time off the floor to process the suspect. If they are prosecuted for the theft, the loss prevention associate will likely have to spend time in court. This takes them out of the store, subjecting the company to more loss. Of course, the associate also has to be paid for court time. As a result of the process, how much did the company save? Sometimes, from a business standpoint, it’s a much more effective prevention technique to deter the crime rather than pursue the detention.

Law enforcement officers are charged with looking at such incidents from a criminal standpoint. Their primary function is to protect life and property and enforce the laws. In these same circumstances, if an officer was in a store shopping and witnessed the same concealment, they may be able to pursue a lawful arrest, as they have probable cause to believe that a crime was committed in their presence.

At one time, I was a deputy sheriff and a retail loss prevention officer for a company in the same county. While as a law enforcement officer I had police and arrest powers, I made my decisions based on what was best for the business when I was working in a retail LP position. However, being both can have its advantages as well.

Based on my many experiences working in both positions, not only can retail loss prevention and law enforcement work together, they should. Law enforcement officers need to realize just because a person is working in loss prevention, it doesn’t mean they are any less capable.

Unfortunately, some officers believe otherwise. Working uniformed security gave me great experience in report writing and dealing with the public. Retail LP gave me great experience in initial loss prevention observations, case preparation, evidence handling and testifying in court. All were things that would later assist me in being a good police officer. Frankly, retail loss prevention usually pays better than law enforcement and usually isn’t as dangerous.

From a retail loss prevention perspective, keep in mind that there may be times when you have to explain retail terms to police officers, such as under-ringing or UPCs. Be realistic in your expectations of what the police officer can actually do. Be reasonable when working with law enforcement to investigate crimes, and take the necessary steps to best prepare a case to avoid unnecessary delays or create additional work.

From a law enforcement perspective, it’s important to refrain from looking at retail crimes as petty offenses that don’t hurt anyone. Retail theft costs everyone. Be sure to include the retail loss prevention personnel in your reports and as you carry out your investigation. Ask good questions. Request video support when available, or other company records that can assist in the investigation.

Whether you’re working in loss prevention, law enforcement, or both, have respect for the other side. Professional choices are made for many different reasons. If we work together and use each other’s knowledge and experience by taking a team approach, we can present different pieces of the puzzle to make a more complete picture, which benefits everyone. Hopefully, some great friendships can be made along the way as well.

This article was originally published in 2016 and was updated June 25, 2018. 

  • wayne reses

    The jig is up. Today I randomly made a stop in one of the main Ft. Lauderdale, Florida CVS stores. I like certain aspect of CVS. Compared to Walgreens, CVS has a much more up to date floor plan which includes a lack of angled anti-shoplifting mirrors (somewhat effective but incredibly aesthetically displeasing. CVS is also carpeted which gives it a modern aesthetic, takes it out of the five and dime realm, and give the store quieter acoustical qualities. What I don’t like about both stores are the following two facts: 1) Both stores buy cheap goods from China and then sell them to an unassuming public Wal-Mart style and worse 2) both stores rape and pillage (and I don’t use those words lightly to describe how CVS and Walgreens (don’t think you other chain stores are off the hook: this means you Target, Costco, K-Mart, etc. – you’re all up to the same devious modus operandi.) Charge their uninsured cash paying customers rapacious, usurious prescription drug fees. A typical insured prescription is priced as follows: $1.75 (regardless of what it costs the pharmacy to acquire the drug plus two dollar or less “dispensing fee.” Pharmacies have a contractual relationship with insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers and have to honer these prices. While the pharmacies are being raped by the drug manufacturers and wholesalers, chain retail drug store like Walgreens and CVS don’t miss out on the opportunity to charge those who can least afford to pay according to the following approximate formula: Drug cost ($10.00) times a Markup Fee (50 percent or more of the drug’s actual cost to the pharmacy), which so far adds up to $60.00 minus a magnanimous copay of $2.00 yielding a final price of $58.00. Pure profit to the pharmacy.
    The Loss Prevention jig is up. While in the Ft. Lauderdale area store I spied a (black man, for whatever it’s worth) who was in the CVS store before I arrived. He was wearing sub-standard shoes, sub-standard business khaki pants, and a button down T-Shirt suitable for a Jerry Springer appearance. He appeared to be interacting with a balding late middle age white man with a bad suit and tie. I approached Mr. Bad Suit and asked him a superficial question about how I might go north on Federal Highway. He gave me a comprehensive lesson of the type only articulated by the mind of someone who who has to know his environs and testify as to what happened in court. I asked the black man how he got a job at CVS. I indicated that he seemed to be meandering, would have been kicked out fifteen minutes ago as a vagrant and didn’t appear to have any means, cart or hand cart to shop. I told him that I applied to CVS several years ago and agreed to watch over the entire store for the paltry fee of $0.01. I told him that my application was rejected. I suggested on the other hand, that it appears that he had a very “Cush” job at CVS – appearing to shop, occasionally handling merchandise, walking up and down the isles watching customers, etc. He turned his head 45 degrees and pretended not to hear me but since he was only four feet away, this was not possible. Finally, in a plaintive voice, possibly with a Haitian accent he said, “I am in loss prevention.”
    Wow, they don’t go out to their cars. They seem rather disciplined or at least pretend that they are.
    Since I always keep a laptop computer with portable printer in my car, I quickly and surreptitiously snapped photo’s of our men, the spies. I added the headline, “These Men Are Loss (Theft) Prevention and They Are Currently Patrolling This Store. I Suggest You Find Another CVS or Other Store.
    I was asked to remove myself from the property but by that time the damage was done. I estimate that at least fifty percent of the customer had left the store and commented that they would not be returning.
    Expect this technique to be appearing at a CVS near you.
    Wayne Reses

  • Matt Angiolillo

    Currently work for Bloomingdales Loss Prevention at Sawgrass Mills Mall in Sunrise FL, regularly read LPM Insider. Would just like to say based on this article its unusual to read that some Loss Prevention Officers/Agents/Detectives may not have support from Law Enforcement. Unfortunately for us we work side by side with our cities Police Department (Sunrise Police Department). Any time we have an issue or are dealing with a “Big Group” of individuals Our cities police department has provided us with there direct numbers as well as numbers of other LP’s in the area. No only do we have Law Enforcements support but also other LP’s Support when it comes to making apprehensions. Yes we do all work for different companies, but in the end were all here doing the same job and are all taking the same risks to get the job done. I think Law Enforcement agencies would benefit working with LP’s and vice versa.

  • Jim Tomaszewski

    You think “retail” has problems with Law Enforcement… You could spend hours when dealing with Rent To Own stores such as Aarons, and Rent a Center…

  • Dennis Dansak

    well, the article is captioned “…can they work together”. As a retired Special Agent and now directing the ORC Division for Kroger’s 25 companies, the answer is “they MUST work together”.

  • Officer Chris Shean

    I am The Retail Theft liaison/detective for the Seattle Police Department. We have a Retail Theft Program that has been active since 1989. Our Loss prevention agents make apprehensions and write police reports that are the actual charging documents. The program has reduced patrol response to shoplift calls by 40-60%. The major department stores, drug and grocery chains, warehouse stores and some independents are part of the program. We have a great relationship with the retailers and attend regular meetings to share information.

  • As for being in LP for almost 15 years, I have seen multiple jurisdiction and how they differ. NJ depending on the Twp are for most part, very cooperative and still arrest shoplifters. I also been in Maryland which is different and the police come out and identify the subject for you if they have no ID, run warrants and give you a case number and LP goes to the Commissioners to draw up charging documents and some counties may do a criminal citation. The biggest gripe with Police is the amount of time in a short staffed department. I always ensure I have my paperwork complete before their arrival and just hand everything over even with narrative at times. I hope to see technology in the future that would allow LPs to input cases that would generate a local police case # if police response is not required and then transfer down to the courthouse in the charging language just streamlining the process. We should also be able to manually enter in investigations of shoplifter that weren’t caught yet and upload photos to that police jurisdiction and State Police. We need a more streamlined approach and LP needs to as a group appear for their cases which is the main reason many police departments wont do the charges. There is definitely room to grow.


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