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.
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.