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Taking Control of the Situation – Part I

Ed. Note: This whitepaper is a sample from Victor’s upcoming book, tentatively titled Training Ordinary People to be Everyday Heroes. For more information, please visit the Crimefighters, USA website:

In the often unpredictable situation of a shoplifter apprehension, you need to exhibit control so that the shoplifter knows you are in charge. What can you do to prove to them that you are in charge and know exactly what you’re doing?

To begin, you have to show them that you have control of the situation by showing your confidence, no fear of confrontation, and a determination to not give up. In order to do that, you need a step-by-step process to follow. It will need to vary slightly for juveniles and adults, as well as for males and females. And you need to be prepared to alter the plan when the unexpected happens. But you still need a process, a basic procedure to follow. Let’s examine that process and how you use it.

- Digital Partner -

The way you approach the subject and the first words out of your mouth will set the tone for how well the apprehension goes. Remember, you are making an arrest. Any time you restrict someone else’s freedom in this type of setting, you will be making an arrest. Knowing how to approach them and what to say when you do, are the first two steps in this process of a successful apprehension.

“Impede Their Progress”

How you initially approach the subject is key. They are leaving the store and walking away from you, possibly to their vehicle. You must stop their forward movement. I refer to this step as simply “impede their progress.” You impede their forward progress by confidently stepping in front of them. When you do that, most people will stop. You now have their attention!

To do that successfully, you have to approach them quickly and usually from behind so they do not see you coming. What you want to have working for you here is the element of surprise. If a shoplifter notices you approaching from the side, their “flight mode” immediately kicks in. You don’t want that to happen because that’s when all kinds of variables begin to occur. And if they start to run and you end up in a chase, not only do the odds of them getting away increase, but the chances of someone getting hurt increase as well. To make a successful apprehension, you need to be close enough to do so. So, when following them out of the store, you need to stay as close as possible without being seen, until you make your move.

Approach the suspect as quickly and quietly as you can before stepping directly in front of them. And when you do that, as I said previously, at that precise moment you will have their full attention.

“Identify Yourself”

As they say in show business, you’re on! At this point, the stage is yours. You’ve just stepped right front of the subject. They’re nervous! Your adrenaline is going! They’re looking at you and you are looking right back at them. What do you do next? What do you say? The most important thing you can do right now is identify yourself. For me, as a plain clothes store detective, it didn’t take long to figure out what worked best for me. As I stepped in front of them, I would look them right in the eye (very important in establishing control) and say,

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“Excuse me sir. I’m with store security. I want to talk to you.”

Or you can shorten it up, and simply say “Store security. I want to talk to you.” This simple phrase gets the message across. It gets the job done. Whatever you decide to say, state it very clearly and precisely. It has to be simple and quick. If you are a member of management, you can do it the same way. “Excuse me miss. I’m the Assistant Manager. And I want to talk to you.” This is not the time to be nice or apologetic. It is the time to be firm and direct.

At the same time I’m telling them who I am, I am also holding in my hand for them to see, my badge or ID card. This additional act of showing your identification is not only an act of professionalism, but it shows them you have the authority to stop them. It’s also a visual aid for their eyes, not just something verbal to hear. If you are a member of management (with your ID pinned to your chest), you could point to your ID as you verbally identify yourself. I made it a habit of pulling out my ID and having it ready, just before stepping in front of them. That way I wouldn’t have to fumble for it as I’m identifying myself.

Since they will be focused on completing their theft act (trying to get away), you will have effectively distracted them enough by your voice, your presence in front of them, and by flashing your ID. Make sure you hold it at eye level. Hold it there for just a second or two. Make sure they see it but don’t give them time to read it. Hold it out, and then tuck it away back in your pocket. You need to have both hands free in case they attempt to get past you (you can show it to them later in the office if they request it). By stopping the subject in this manner, you will have effectively gotten their focus off what they are doing. And that can only add to your advantage. Let’s look at some examples where taking control of the situation led to a successful apprehension:

- Digital Partner -

1) A female shoplifter with several pairs of jeans concealed in her shoulder bag leaves the store. We had a metal railing about three feet high surrounding the sidewalk immediately outside the foyer. After observing the concealment, I followed her outside. As she walked out between one of the openings in the railing, I ran up and jumped over the railing and came down directly in front of her. After I identified myself, the first words out of her mouth were, “Where did you come from?” The element of surprise was definitely in play.

2) Another female shoplifter placed a 19″ TV in her shopping cart, and eventually pushed it out of the store without paying for it. I came up behind her on the sidewalk, identified myself, and grabbed hold of the cart. I then had her turn around, and push the shopping cart with the TV back into the store. By grabbing hold of the shopping cart and halting its forward progress, I simultaneously impeded her progress and immediately got her attention.

3) A male shoplifter with air tools from automotives concealed in his jacket walks out of the store without intending or attempting to pay for the items. I followed the subject outside while radioing for backup. I stepped in front of him, identified myself with ID in my right hand, while grabbing hold of his jacket with my left hand. This prevented him from even thinking of trying to run. Control of the situation was immediate! However, I would only recommend taking hold of the subject for the more experienced (and if your store policy permits it).

In all three of the examples above, the shoplifters returned to the store without incident. Control of the situation was established before the subject could remove their car keys from their pocket or purse. Those are the first two steps when apprehending a shoplifter: 1) impede their progress and 2) identifying yourself. Those two steps alone, when done correctly, should establish who is in charge. Remember also that any shoplifter apprehension can potentially turn into a dangerous situation. Be smart, always call for backup and use common sense. Let’s proceed on with the remaining steps in making a successful apprehension.

To be continued in Part II.

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