When the ORC team at Limited Brands was dealing with sophisticated criminals in 2007, it became clear that we needed talented loss prevention professionals to execute our strategy. That’s why we created a comprehensive training program that we refer to as our “ORC pillars of strength.”
The foundation of the training was designed to build our teams’ capabilities to identify, apprehend, and put professional criminals “out of business.” There are five main pillars to the training—civil liabilities, legal, investigative, technology, and execution.
Civil Liabilities—Every new ORC associate must successfully complete a training program that focuses on observing a theft.
Legal—Criminal procedure training is conducted on everything from arrest to arraignment to search and seizure to ensure the team is well versed on what is required by law enforcement throughout the whole criminal justice process. This allows us to become more productive partners with law enforcement.
Investigative—All facets of investigations are examined, from how to conduct surveillances of multiple suspects in a mall to surveillance of fence locations to Internet investigations.
Technology—To win the organized retail crime battle, not only do we need to field a well-trained team, but a well-equipped team of ORC investigators. We must invest in the right technology to support our goals.
Execution—What brings the whole program together is flawless execution, which we define by having the right people in the right place at the right times doing the right things. To help position the team we developed crime pattern analysis reporting and market-specific reporting.
ORC Investigator Strategy and Tactics
In the underbelly of society, criminals have a familiar mantra that spans all cultures—criminals will always go down the path of least resistance. For the traditional mafia outfit, the easiest path is illegal sports betting that fuels more illicit endeavors. For organized retail crime groups, it is the low-risk, high-reward scenario of retail theft.
The specialty retail environment provides unique challenges for the loss prevention specialist when dealing with professional organized retail crime teams. In specialty stores, most of the newer, hotter, high-value products are unprotected, in the front of the store, near large, open exits. This translates into a great opportunity for the professional criminal.
To combat this external threat, regional loss prevention managers continually train and coach the store associates to provide a great customer experience, which deters opportunists and petty thieves by “prevention through service.”
Because professional theft teams ignore and circumvent this strategy, we literally had to throw out the old rule book and devise new ways of tracking and apprehending these offenders.
We trained our loss prevention staff to be more surveillance and intelligence-gathering experts, rather than traditional store detectives who apprehend the shoplifter at the door.
Criminal Fence Investigations
One prong in our ORC investigative approach is the identification, infiltration, interdiction, and closure of fencing locations. Experienced law enforcement investigators know that if you follow the money, stop the money, you stop the crime.
In organized retail crime investigations, the money is located at the various quasi-legal and illegal fence operations that buy stolen property, whether they actually order the product from the professional thieves or put general word out that this is what they want.
We developed a specific strategy for identifying these locations. Once the location is identified, we send in undercover ORC investigators or a cooperating confidential informant to make a purchase and to observe the activity in the alleged fence location. We also attempt to identify the owner and principals of the location through various public records searches. Other investigative avenues we take are tried-and-true detective work, such as trash pulls and surveillance.
Once we verify criminal activity, we contact our law enforcement partners and debrief them on our activities and provide them with our evidence, which is encapsulated in an investigative binder. Law enforcement then verifies our information and depending on their demands, a search warrant is issued for the “business” as soon as possible.
Law Enforcement Relations
The most important prong of our strategy is to maintain and continue to develop better relationships with law enforcement.
In the past, law enforcement placed a low priority on shoplifting crimes. Our initiative in recent years has been to change that perception and show our law enforcement partners that ORC incidents amount to billions of dollars of lost revenue to companies that create and support jobs in their area. We also show them the impact to the government through the estimated loss of income tax and sales tax revenues.
We offer ORC training training to any law enforcement agency that is interested, and through our law enforcement grant program donate money or equipment to law enforcement agencies affected by organized retail crime.
Equipment and Training
Even with the most talented ORC investigators, if you do not provide the proper training and equipment, your investigations will be seriously handicapped.
Surveillance Training. Besides the basic theft observation training, we teach more sophisticated skills, such as mobile and foot surveillance. This training is done through consultants who are former federal agents who have training experience with the FBI, CIA, NSA, and Special Operations. Our surveillance training always stresses safety first.
Criminal Procedure Training. Every ORC team member is also trained in criminal procedure, so that the investigator understands the efforts that the prosecutor and police officer have to go through to get a warrant signed. With this knowledge and the understanding of the criminal justice process, the investigator can offer evidence he or she knows will be viable to a prosecutor. Understanding criminal procedure also alleviates potential frustration felt by retail loss prevention members who see that the process, most of the time, and not the officer or prosecutor, is guilty of slowing the evolution of the case.
Equipment. We equipped our ORC investigators with state-of-the-art equipment, including covert surveillance cameras, high-end digital still cameras, digital video recorders, bag cameras, and GPS devices.
We reassess our abilities every year to make sure that we are keeping pace with the speed of technology and also evolve our training sessions to correspond with current legal decisions as well as the changing methods of the organized retail criminal.
This article was excerpted from “Organized Retail Crime: Executing the ORC Strategy.”