Is Shoplifting a Gateway Crime? Criminal Justice Survey Says “Yes”

79 percent of criminal and juvenile justice professionals surveyed agree

The National Association for Shoplifting Prevention (NASP) surveyed hundreds of judges, prosecutors, probation professionals and law enforcement officers, asking them first if they thought shoplifting was a gateway crime. NASP also asked them to comment on and explain the reasoning behind their belief (see comments below).

Seventy-nine percent of criminal and juvenile justice professionals believe, based on their experience with offenders, that shoplifting is a “gateway” crime. Almost eight out of ten said that their professional experience has shown that shoplifting is commonly a gateway to additional acts of shoplifting and more serious crimes.

Gateway crime: A crime with little consequence, which acts as an initiator to other crimes.

Compounding the problem are the rising felony thresholds of the criminal justice reform movement and the disproportionate impact criminal justice reform is destined to have on retail loss, shrink and safety. Stop thinking “gateway”; start thinking “open floodgate.”

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Getting ahead of the problem and finding ways to be more creative in the approach to shoplifting is going to be key to mitigating the future impact on shrink and safety. It is time to begin shifting our thinking toward more long-term solutions.

NASP can help retailers get started by looking at these types of programs:

  • Promote and advocate for school and community-based education that addresses shoplifting before it begins
  • Raise and expand community awareness
  • Expand criminal justice collaborations in your local communities

Comments from Experts

“Young people often shoplift small things and are caught only a small percentage of the time. They become emboldened by their success and then try to engage in more and more risky behavior. They soon find that they can steal things not only for themselves, but can convert their stolen loot into dollars or other products, such as drugs or alcohol.” — Probation Officer, Buffalo, NY

“Once someone gets away with shoplifting, it can lead them to believe that they can get away with other crimes as well.” — Assistant State’s Attorney, Riverside, CA

“Juveniles begin testing authority/boundaries by shoplifting. If they get away with it, criminal behavior is reinforced and continues.” — Chief Prosecutor, Canton, OH

“In my sixteen years’ experience with diversion, shoplifters who were not shown to take their crime seriously were the ones who later on were arrested for breaking and entering and burglary — they never got the message of not taking what didn’t belong to them.” — Juvenile Court Diversion Coordinator, Rochester, NH

“Along with truancy, shoplifting is one of the most common entry-level status and delinquent activities that lead kids into association with negative peers and older, delinquent peers, as well as adult criminals. Shoplifting starts the identification as a delinquent individual and reinforces the entitled-self concept.” — Probation Officer, Aurora, CO.


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