Taking a CLEAR Approach to Greater Success against Retail Crime

Is there a down side to CLEAR? In the middle of a recession that has most retailers and law enforcement organizations taking a tight-fisted approach to budgets, membership in the Coalition of Law Enforcement and Retail (CLEAR) is free. While most attendees at most loss prevention and law enforcement conferences tend to be from senior management, CLEAR’s conferences will concentrate on retail investigators and police detectives.

While most crime-fighting associations focus on signing-up either loss prevention or law enforcement professionals, CLEAR aims for a balanced membership of both retail loss prevention and law enforcement.

And when members started sending emails about how travel budgets have been cut way back, CLEAR listened and pushed back its first-ever conference to 2010.

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CLEAR is shaping up as a new kind of professional association for the new century. The group seems to be hitting the right note, too. After less than a year since its formation, CLEAR has signed up over 800 members, split 50/50 between retail investigators and police investigators. There seems to be no downside so far with CLEAR.

On a CLEAR Day Last Year
CLEAR was established at lunch one day during a national property crime conference in late 2008. It is the brainchild of two old friends, Jack Gee and Frank Muscato, both nationally known veterans in the investigation of property crime. Jack Gee is a detective in the Fort Lauderdale Police Department and Frank Muscato is supervisor of investigations with Walgreens. This association is an extracurricular project for Gee and Muscato, and is not sponsored by either the Fort Lauderdale Police Department or Walgreens.

Jack Gee

Over the previous few years, Gee and Muscato had been approached by people in the industry to start a national association, but it seemed like a formidable task. When the discussion about the need for a new association got serious, “Frank and I realized that between us, we know the country’s top property crime professionals in retail and law enforcement,” says Gee. “There’s a feeling that our two professions do much of the same work, but have always been treated as separate entities. There are loss prevention investigators and there are law enforcement investigators. We needed an association for investigators, period.”

In creating CLEAR Gee and Muscato signed-up the best in both fields for the organization’s board of directors [see SIDEBAR below]. For example, it now has the former presidents of two of the only four state law enforcement property crime associations, Jack Gee and Richard Milburn. Both have taught throughout the country and are known as two of the top national law enforcement experts in property crime investigations.

“Our board is made up of two sections working toward the same goal. For each retail board member, we have a law enforcement board member. Same position, but a different and important point of view,” says Gee.

Frank Muscato

“The board of directors came together so smoothly, like it was meant to be. Our board directors, executive board, and officers are second to none. Since then, CLEAR has taken on a life of its own. It is something that has been needed for some time, an association that welcomes all investigators, not just a select section of them. We came up with the idea of CLEAR because of the need for CLEAR,” Muscato says.

 

How Is CLEAR Different?
There are numerous other national, state, and regional retail loss prevention crime and law enforcement associations. How is CLEAR different? Gee and Muscato say that “CLEAR is one of many, but clearly it’s one of a kind.”

They explain that CLEAR is intended to appeal to investigators that actually handle property crime cases. Other associations are designed to attract the retail industry’s and corporate loss prevention’s top management ranks. Participation in some of those conferences can be very selective and expensive. CLEAR is a non-profit association; an IRS-designated 501(c)(3) organization. It is designed to be attractive and affordable to all investigators in both law enforcement and retail, an integrated combination of the two separate, but obviously closely related fields. As a non-profit organization with no dues, it hopes to raise funds from foundation and corporate grants and, perhaps, company sponsorships and advertising.

“We purposely established CLEAR for the men and women in the trenches, rather than aiming for the corporate folks,” Gee explains. “Many of the other associations host a conference for loss prevention with a few law enforcement officers showing up, or a law enforcement conference with a few loss prevention people attending. CLEAR will bring loss prevention and law enforcement together in an equal partnership.”

Mitzi Perry

To illustrate the point, Gee and Muscato point out that CLEAR has enlisted the participation of two nationally known training directors. “Mitzi Perry, in the St. Petersburg Police Department, has been organizing law enforcement conferences for years. She knows the instructors, she knows the topics. She is, in my opinion, one of the best in the business of setting up training conferences,” Gee says. “We have our second, equal, training director on the retail side. Mark Neapolitan at Sterling Jewelers has been in the business for many years. He has organized training for both retail and law enforcement. His expertise is sought throughout the country and internationally. CLEAR combines the knowledge and experience of these two experienced leaders to provide training that is the cutting edge for all investigators,” Gee says.

Gee and Muscato say that another distinction for CLEAR will be an organization that does not “start and stop with the annual conference.” CLEAR’s ideas and purpose will be in constant motion” in an effort to keep the two groups connected and networked year around.

The Recession Is Reducing the Ranks of Investigators
Gee and Muscato believe strongly that the time is right for CLEAR and that the need has never been greater. In fact, the economic recession is driving a little-discussed crisis of loss and security threats in the retail environment. As Gee candidly notes, “We are all too familiar with the fact that almost all retail companies are reducing their employees. The common mantra these days is ‘doing more with less.’ It seems every day we hear of a major retailer laying off thousands of employees. Unfortunately, among these displaced employees are store investigators. The investigative industry is in a constant state of being understaffed and training budgets are dwindling or just non-existent.”

At the same time, rising unemployment and home foreclosures almost inevitably trigger increases in theft, fraud, burglary, and other property crime. Both loss prevention and law enforcement officials say that fewer employees on the store floors, including LP people, security officers, and investigators, weaken the loss prevention environment.

“Some people are using these troubled times as an excuse to prey on the law abiding. The environment is getting to the point that it may push people over that thin line between good and bad. Some people who have never considered it before are finding property crime to be a quick fix to their problems. So while loss prevention and law enforcement investigative loss numbers may be shrinking, the number of perpetrators is growing by leaps and bounds. Law enforcement and retail cannot deal with this by themselves, as separate entities. If we do not work together, it could take forever to reach our common goal. These times dictate action rather than inaction. There is strength in numbers, in partnership, a retail and law enforcement partnership,” Gee argues.

The Power of Collaboration, Communication, and Networking
The CLEAR founders are convinced the new organization can become a powerful force both as a national organization and catalyst at the local level for “real time” collaboration and communication between retail loss prevention and law enforcement. This is particularly the case right now as communities are dealing with more property crime as well as violent incidents in public places.

“A major part of CLEAR training will deal with property crime in one way or another,” Gee says. “However, the broader purpose is to provide training on any subject that will benefit retail and law enforcement. An example is the training we are preparing on the subject of ‘active shooter.’ This is an urgent issue today. If a situation occurs in which there is one or more active shooters in a mall, wouldn’t it be beneficial for retail to know what to expect from law enforcement? It would be good to have a basic knowledge of what steps to take to protect customers and fellow employees and get them out of harm’s way. For law enforcement, it would be helpful to know what the retail people are doing. How they are reacting? What practical operations are being implemented to protect these folks by the retail professionals? This would help both law enforcement and retail in a trying and dangerous situation. That is what CLEAR is about. We need to get in each other’s heads to become partners toward the same goal rather than separate teams.”

To further argue for the contribution that CLEAR can make, Muscato points to experiences he usually has on a weekly, if not daily, basis as he coordinates various retail investigations. “If I’m working a case in Clearwater, Florida, I can go to the CLEAR membership website and find an investigator in that area, whether retail or law enforcement, and ask for his or her advice or assistance.

“With CLEAR I will be able to network with others in our field, share prior experiences, learn new ideas, and share information on these cases,” explains Muscato. “There may be a method that someone in Chicago is using to combat Internet fencing that would work just as well for an investigator in Texas. CLEAR is a way to spread those methods and ideas around the nation. If you have never had the advantage of accessing a common network, you can not appreciate what a helpful resource it can be. I am always reminded of the old saying—‘Work smarter not harder.’”

What CLEAR Is and What It Is Not
Gee and Muscato take every opportunity to emphasize that the primary objective of CLEAR is to forge a new type of productive relationship between retail loss prevention investigators and law enforcement investigators. They are also eager to dispel any potential initial impressions that CLEAR is only focused on organized retail crime (ORC). They emphasize CLEAR is about partnership at the local field level and about networking nationally to combat all retail property crime. On the other hand, CLEAR does not intend to remain silent about how local retail property crime can, indeed, be linked to form a bigger, even more serious, picture that can include both ORC and terrorism.

“I want to be clear we are not an ORC association. ORC is only one of the many property crimes that we will deal with,” says Gee. “CLEAR will address anything that affects retail loss prevention and law enforcement. We will deal with robbery, burglary, fraud, active shooters, organized retail crime, legal issues, and anything else that affects us as property crime investigators.

“We want investigators to think together, learn together, and work together to fight retail property crime at all levels,” Gee adds. “It is unbelievable to me to hear the all-too-common attitude of law enforcement toward issues such as organized retail crime, fencing, and fraud. It views these as secondary crimes. They are not part of the Uniform Crime Reporting (part one) crime statistics, so they often take a back seat to other crimes.”

“Many law enforcement officers don’t realize that ORC and fraud have been tracked and linked to funding sources in support of some suspects involved in terrorist organizations. There is a huge resource of information out there that few in law enforcement ever tap into. I can give countless examples of retail theft or fraud cases that led to other crimes like robbery, organized retail theft, and large fencing rings. Property crimes are continually on the rise, but often ignored. Few agencies have dedicated detectives assigned to ORC. Although this is one of the fastest growing crimes in the country, many agencies minimize the impact it has in the community. CLEAR would like to change this.”

CLEAR wants to encourage and support agencies that want to develop designated units to respond to ORC cases. Gee and Muscato believe that when a retail investigator gets a lead about an ORC group, they need to have confidence that the case will be diligently worked by a knowledgeable partner in law enforcement.

CLEAR will also encourage the development of new state associations. Not chapters of CLEAR, although that is a possibility, too, but independent state associations that bring all retail crime investigators together. Eventually, CLEAR wants to offer free training to interested groups and offer guidance and direction when asked.

At the same time that CLEAR sounds a democratic, grassroots note of reaching out to all ranks of both LP and law enforcement, it makes clear that it is not interested in becoming or aligning with a union. “Our members are primarily from non-executive levels, but we want to welcome all investigators. We are not taking on issues dealing with wages or working conditions. Top retail LP executives and top police commanders will be welcome to attend our conferences and hopefully make presentations. We want as much participation and communication as possible,” Muscato says.

What Are the Next Steps with CLEAR?
Despite the weak economy, which has reduced its current and potential members’ ability to travel to conferences and even training programs, CLEAR is determined to move forward. It is quietly, but steadily building its membership. “The price is right. CLEAR is free,” Gee practically shouts. “We would love all Loss Prevention Magazine readers to go to www.clearusa.org and join CLEAR. Any retailer involved in loss prevention or asset protection professional, law enforcement officer, or retired law enforcement officer are welcome to become members of this association. There are others that can become associate members, and that is judged on a case-by-case basis. Once you sign up and your qualifications are confirmed, you become a member.”

CLEAR was well on the way to hosting its first conference early in the fall of 2009 in Nevada. However, when it became certain that attendance would be much lower than anticipated because of the economy, it has now been moved to 2010.

The group is also working to enhance and expand its web site. Most of the new content and functionality will be in the secure, password protected members only section. “We intend to make the CLEAR web site a must-have resource for all retail investigators. There needs to be the ability for our members to trade ideas and information in a confidential and secure manner. The website will be especially important for exchanging best practices—what works, what does not work, and what can be done different to get better results,” Gee says.

Driven by its passionate cofounders, a national board with vast experience in private retail loss prevention and law enforcement investigation, and strong initial grassroots support, CLEAR seems on track to make an impact. “The crime we are fighting will never go away. The environment today is getting to the point that it may push more and more people over that thin line between good and bad. But even after the economy recovers, there will still be plenty of bad people out there.”

SIDEBAR: CLEAR’s Founders and Board of Directors

Jack Gee is president of CLEAR and has been in law enforcement for twenty-eight years. He is currently a detective in the Fort Lauderdale (Florida) Police Department. Gee says that “during that time, I have been in almost every unit imaginable. However, my first love is and has always been property crime.”

While still a detective, Gee has also been an adjunct professor at St. Petersburg College. He was instrumental is passing three Florida state statutes dealing with property crime; statutes that he coauthored.

For the last ten years, he was president of the Florida Law Enforcement Property Recovery Unit (www.flepru.org). This is a non-profit Florida association made up of over 800 property crime investigators in the state of Florida. He recently stepped down as president to start CLEAR, but remains an advisor and legislative chairman for FLEPRU.

He continues to make presentations and conduct training programs around the country on property crime issues, including pawnshop investigations, ORC, and property sting operations.

Frank Muscato is cofounder with Gee and one of the two vice presidents of CLEAR He is currently investigations supervisor in the ORC division of Walgreens’ loss prevention department. He retired from the Dallas Police Department after twenty-five years of service. Prior to joining Walgreens, he was with Wal-Mart for eleven years. Muscato is the author of nineteen federal or state retail crime bills. All of these bills were related to property crimes and one or more have passed and become law in forty-nine states.

Board of Directors
President—Jack Gee, Fort Lauderdale Police Department
Vice Presidents—Richard Millburn, Mesa Police Department (retired), and Frank Muscato, Walgreens
National Secretary—Millie Faiai, San Diego County Sheriff’s Department
National Treasurer—Dave Collins, Sterling Jewelers
Training Directors—Mitzi Perry, St. Petersburg Police Department, and Mark Neapolitan, Sterling Jewelers
Legislative Chairman—Millie Kresevich, Luxottica Retail
Regional Directors—David Hill, Montgomery County Police Department; Bill Streator, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department (retired); Darren Jackson, Home Depot; James Hooper, JCPenney; Troy King, Portland Police Department; Jason Davies, Target
Sergeant at Arms—Dennis Thomas, Zales
Procurement—Jennifer Dayss, Sterling Jewelers, and Jackie Cato, Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores

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