Retail’s Opportunity to Help Reduce Recidivism

Staib began her career in sales and marketing before joining NASP more than eighteen years ago. As director of communications, Staib serves as a public champion of the retail loss prevention industry, an advocate of education to reduce offender recidivism, and an activist in retail and criminal justice cooperation to save resources and reduce the liability, cost, and criminal escalation of repeat offenders. She can be reached at bcstaib [at] shopliftingprevention.org.

Why does the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention (NASP) talk so much about the retailers’ need to reduce recidivism?

This single goal—reducing recidivism (repeat offenses)—provides the necessary focus to strengthen responses to shoplifting by retailers, criminal justice, and in turn the wider community. Preventing the next offense not only is good business for retailers but also provides value to the entire community. Retailers taking a stance and maintaining focus on this one goal will ensure that their strategies and those of criminal justice will begin to reduce the shoplifting problem—and the safety concerns it creates—in a meaningful way. Just recently, a retailer shared this point of view. Every time there is an incident in his store, it creates a safety issue for his team, associates, customers, responders, and bystanders. If there is a repeat contact, that issue can easily escalate and become a greater liability for store and community alike. Therefore, he concluded, reducing recidivism has to be the primary goal and end result of any program that purports to address shoplifting. We agree.

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Can retailers really have an impact in reducing recidivism? Isn’t it up to the criminal justice system?

Retailers can not only have an impact but also, as the victim of the crime, be the driving force in the effort to address repeat offenses to improve safety throughout the community. Yes, reducing repeat offenses is an imperative of the criminal justice system and is arguably their primary purpose. But for retailers, preventing the next offense is just good business. If the goal is to empty the pond, then catch, warn, and release is not the answer. Ensuring substantive action to stop the next offense is the answer.

In addition, while retailers have traditionally relied on criminal justice to do this, they can no longer do so since more and more offenders are neither reported to nor accepted by the system. Even if they do enter the system, far too many jurisdictions focus on moving cases along quickly rather than on preventing another offense. As the victim, retailers can press for action by criminal justice. Better yet, they can help jurisdictions in making programs available to offenders. Retailers can also explore the use of statutorily available programs like civil demand to make education available to offenders. (Retail AP teams are welcome to reach out and enlist the help of a NASP community coordinator in this effort.)

What would you say to retailers dealing with the growing lack of police response to low-level offenses?

Don’t be too quick to throw in the towel and accept that the police are not going to respond. Do not accept that your only options are to send reports and hope for the best or give up and allow shoplifting to go unreported. As the victim of crime, not to mention a key constituent, retailers have a voice. They need to use it as a proactive and positive community partner so as not to risk tarnishing the brand. Use your voice to engender cooperation—to share the burden and offer up resources to help police create, for example, a conditional citation program rather than accepting the futility of cite and release. Or reach out to prosecutors to ensure their diversion programs include proven-effective education and sanctions. Set the bar high for communities in terms of education and recidivism but be a partner in achieving the collective goal.

What about the many programs proposed by police and law enforcement who want to reduce the patrol hours spent responding to shoplifting?

Such as the many “cite and release” programs? Unfortunately, in most cases, it is nothing more than a get-out-of-jail free card—akin to a speeding ticket but without the fine—unless the police are issuing a conditional citation. A conditional cite and release program gives the offender a fixed period to complete the educational and other conditions set forth by the police (not the retailer) to avoid formal prosecution. With the proper education in place, conditional cite and release can be very successful in reducing the number of cases that end up in court as well as reducing repeat offenses, both of which represent cost savings for retailer and community. However, if it is just a catch, cite, and release without fixed sanctions, pass on it.

A variation on cite and release are programs that provide for the electronic and remote filing of case reports. These eliminate the police need to respond to calls for service, but again, retailers should be sure to have visibility to both the handling and outcomes of cases. What are the criteria for prosecution? Better yet, is there a police-owned diversion program in place, which includes an effective mechanism to reduce recidivism and handle cases that do not meet prosecution standards? If attached to a program like a conditional citation, electronic filing of cases is a practical option. If not, pass on it too.

Even in the communities where you have the benefit of a traditional police response, there is an opportunity to support the use of police citation or station-house adjustment programs to keep offenders out of the courts but still educate them to reduce repeat offenses. This ensures a police record of the incident but still reduces the hours consumed by court filings and preserves resources for cases that are more critical or pose community safety threats.

Any words of caution for retailers as they navigate these options?

Cooperating with law enforcement, criminal justice, and the community to find effective alternatives to traditional shoplifting responses is crucial, but make sure the solutions offered meet retail needs in equal measure to criminal justice needs. Citation programs and electronic reporting programs can be a great compromise—but not without some substantive and educational sanctions at the police or prosecutor level. If reports simply go into a black hole of cases, or if the criteria for prosecution are so high that the case has no hope of ever reaching the prosecutor, then the program is just empowering offenders with the knowledge that nothing will happen to them if they shoplift again. This not only promotes repeat offenders but also encourages the escalation of offenses to test the limits of each community’s apathy toward retail theft, which we all know is increasing every day.

Simply put, shoplifting is a numbers game and a people problem. Statistically, there are almost 30 million people willing to shoplift on any given day. There is no practical way to catch and punish every single one, day after day-there just are not enough retail or law enforcement resources. Therefore, logic dictates that we reduce the number of people who shoplift to begin to level the playing field. Since apprehension is the only way to identify shoplifters, we must rely on secondary prevention-that is education after an offense has occurred. So once you identify an offender, the best action is to sanction and educate to prevent the next offense.

Then you need a way to sort out the people. They will either take action on their own behalf, or they won’t, and thus they are self-sorting. We will know immediately who needs the hammer and the impact of the criminal justice system and those who don’t. Good corporate citizens would make it an option for all by funding it in part or in full and providing it free of charge for the indigent and homeless. It’s just good business to reduce the total number of offenders in the pool.

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