All About the ACCESS Task Force

Hardening the Target with a Collaborative, Technology-Driven Approach to Retail Crime

The video captures a young man, shirtless and wearing a backward baseball cap, holding an AR-9 pistol next to a car in a retail parking lot.

At least a half-dozen other individuals gather around two other vehicles in the lot. Seconds later, a voice booms over a loudspeaker. “Warning to the individuals on the property,” it says. “Exit the lot immediately. Law enforcement will be contacted. Everybody in the parking lot exit immediately. Law enforcement is nearby and will be contacted if you do not exit.” The individuals hurry into their cars and begin driving away.

The footage is from one of LVT’s mobile surveillance units, used by dozens of retailers nationwide to stop crime before it enters their stores. In November, the live video, safety, and surveillance provider joined forces with the Loss Prevention Research Council (LPRC) for a six-month pilot program called the Alliance of Companies and Communities to Enhance Safety and Security (ACCESS) Taskforce. The initiative aims to establish a more collaborative, data-driven relationship between local government, law enforcement, and retailers to deter crime. As such, LVT deployed sixty-five units in the parking lots of retailers such as JCPenney, Lowe’s, Walgreens, and Walmart throughout test cities Opelika, AL, and Paducah, KY, over one month.

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Together with the LPRC, LVT will analyze data from the pilot program to understand how technology and greater information-sharing can create a better model to combat retail crime.

Shrinking Violent Retail Crime

Many recent media reports have detailed an apparent nationwide surge in retail crime and additional coverage has investigated the facts behind these claims. The LPRC reports shrink has yet to rise across retailers. However, the number of retailers reporting more problems with violence has increased.

Cory Lowe
Cory Lowe

“Some are experiencing customers and other guests who are more ‘on edge,’ which seems to be escalating to violence more often,” said Cory Lowe, PhD, senior research scientist at LPRC. “On the other hand, many other retailers continue to experience more serious and aggressive incidents in which thieves are more willing to use violence during the commission of crimes.”

As evidenced in the video example above, the presence of the LVT mobile surveillance units aims to stop violent and nonviolent crime. This goal ties into the concept of “negligent liability”—knowing you, as a retailer, operated in an unsafe place and didn’t do anything about it.

Matt Kelley

“There’s a brand protection aspect of it, but then think about it in terms of, ‘Would you want to go someplace that you don’t feel safe?'” said Matt Kelley, MBA, head of retail, go to market, at LVT, and former senior manager, asset protection, innovation, resources and technology, at The Home Depot.

The 1,800-pound LVT units include a mobile trailer with marine-grade batteries, as many as three cameras with pan-tilt-zoom, strobe lights, a twenty-two-foot-high head unit, a two-way speaker, and a floodlight. They charge via solar energy but can connect to cellular backups for locations without a robust solar pool. Designed to be completely autonomous, retailers can trigger responses that sound human while alerting personnel that something is happening in the parking lot.

LVT software manages the video the cameras collect. A promotional video on their website claims the units start operating within thirty minutes with no IT or other technical resources required. Customers buy the units on a subscription basis, but none of the retailers in the ACCESS Taskforce had to pay during the pilot. The solution provider also claims on its website that, outside of the task force, the mobile units have reduced shoplifting events and internal and external shrink by 66 percent and violent crime by 62 percent.

A Tale of Two Cities

LVT and LPRC chose Opelika and Paducah as test locations for the pilot phase of the task force for various reasons. The biggest was identifying communities with a significant concentration of retailers with no mobile units. Both cities are retail hubs for their regions and sit near major highways. Police departments and participating retailers in each city received training on how the units work, what they’re capable of, and how to pull and review video footage, Kelley said.

Opelika, a town of about 31,500 that can reach 80,000 during daytime shopping hours, is just twenty minutes from Auburn University and forty minutes from Fort Benning, GA, and is located between Montgomery, AL, and Atlanta, GA. “Tigertown” is the predominant shopping area for the entire community. The site is increasingly busy in the lead-up to the holiday season, and local law enforcement has historically seen an uptick in retail crimes like shoplifting, car burglaries, loitering, heckling, panhandling, fraud, stolen credit cards, and identity theft. Opelika also sees its share of organized retail crime (ORC).

Shane Haeley

These types of crimes decreased this past holiday shopping season significantly, said Opelika Chief of Police Shane Healey. This meant he didn’t need to deploy additional resources to Tigertown, which enabled his officers to patrol and respond to incidents in other areas.

“The visibility of these camera systems, the flashing lights—everybody knows that this is the police, so to speak,” he said. “I think it really had an impact on what we dealt with through the holiday season.”

His department has also used the units to solve non-retail-related violent crimes, such as domestic incidents and assaults. According to Kelley, Opelika saw a 39 percent decrease in property and violent crime between when they deployed the units in early November of 2022 and January of this year.

Brian Laird

Paducah, which has a population of about 27,000 that can reach up to 100,000 in the daytime, is within two hours of St. Louis, Nashville, Knoxville, and Cincinnati. Citizens from rural communities shop, dine, and get medical care in Paducah—something that inflates their crime statistics, according to Chief of Police Brian Laird.

“Our crime based on the daily population is extremely low compared to that 75,000-people benchmark,” he said. “And retail drives our crime statistics.”

Shoplifting is the most significant retail crime Laird and his officers see. Paducah also isn’t immune to ORC, given its location on Interstate 24 between Chicago and Atlanta. But the poverty level in the region is also high, which accounts for the shoplifting statistics as well.

When LVT contacted Laird to participate in the task force, it piqued his interest from a crime prevention perspective. Overall, the city’s crime statistics year to year stay steady, he said. Paducah saw a 33 percent decrease in property and violent crime between the week of Black Friday in 2021 vs. the same time frame in 2022, according to the data LVT is tracking.

The police departments in both cities did not choose where the LVT units went—that was up to retailers. Most units do have a local police department logo on them, however. Law enforcement doesn’t have direct access to the video footage. Instead, they receive it from LVT or individual retailers that ultimately own it and are not bound to share it. Kelley said one of the significant benefits of the task force is retailers that decide to share footage and information with police can do so in hours, not days.

1,800-pound Sentinel

Forty-three retailers are participating in the task force pilot, and many were already LVT customers. Some retailers have multiple locations in the program, and several have numerous units in each parking lot.

Walmart, an LVT client since 2017, has over 1,000 units nationwide in their most significant risk locations. They now have one Opelika unit and two Paducah units as part of the pilot.

Jatin Patel

“The number one outcome I recall in talking about (the task force) was to create a safer environment for employees, customers, and community members,” said Jatin Patel, director of asset protection at Walmart. “If I can have something like (the LVT unit) record 24/7, keep an eye on things, let me know if something odd is going on, or for me to be able to program in a script that may turn lights on or create sound or anything at all to discourage whatever activity, then great. It’s hard for an individual in a vehicle or on foot to do that 24/7.”

According to Jackie Chapman, LPC, asset protection senior director II at Walmart, the company has many security measures. Still, the LVT unit is the thing that’s “right there” to complement these other efforts.

Jackie Chapman

“For us, the biggest value is some of the intangibles,” he said. “I see the unit; I know it’s watching. If I’m a bad actor or what have you, I see that and will probably go somewhere else. If I’m a customer, I know I’m being watched, and there’s an extra set of eyes out there.”

Patel said the Walmart locations in both test cities had not seen an increase or decrease in violent incidents. Part of the reason is these stores are in safe areas, he said. However, one of the units did help solve an offsite robbery in Paducah on December 10. Walmart’s video footage showed the suspect vehicle, which enabled Laird’s team to track down and arrest the individual.

Chapman said the task force has enhanced Walmart’s collaboration with other local retailers. “I think that’s one thing we’ve seen with this is a little bit better communication at a higher level between retailers.” Chapman notes the working relationship with local police in both cities was strong pre-pilot.

Pete Kepler

Advance Auto Parts has been an LVT customer for two years. They have units in major cities nationwide and now one each in Paducah and Opelika, which are generally quiet locations for the retail chain, said Pete Kepler, director of security services with the asset protection team. They haven’t had any incidents in either area since installing the units, and the feedback from team members is that they feel safer with them in the parking lots.

“The primary driver behind everything we’re doing is team member and customer safety,” he said. “The LVT devices really fit the mold as a visible deterrent and after hours sentinel. It’s like a human guard, but it’s not human.”

Kepler said he looks at excellent customer service—diligent, aware team members—as his number one line of defense against retail crime. He called the LVT technology “set it and forget it” and shared that he has not had to put extra resources into the task force pilot.

“Seeing the data from the other big-box retailers and what the law enforcement officials are saying is a reduction in criminal activity in general, I think you see a more generalized reduction from the LVT devices,” Kepler said. “It’s evident that this community is serious about reducing crime because they’re there.”

Making ACCESS Accessible

Did the sudden appearance of dozens of mobile surveillance units in Opelika and Paducah alarm retail employees, shoppers, or the wider community?

Quite the opposite. The response has generally been one of curiosity or positivity, according to task force participants. Not only did both cities proactively conduct public education pushes, but there’s also a QR code in participating retailers’ parking lots linking to an ACCESS Taskforce web page with more information.

Derek Boggs

“With this being two towns that didn’t have our product before—we made sure that we addressed public opinion,” said Derek Boggs, director of marketing and demand generation at LVT. “We provided more and more information. People’s curiosity can get the best of them when they see this ominous, blue flashing camera in a parking lot. We’re not reading people’s faces and sending them to a database.”

Boggs also said their units don’t bark at people as they enter a store. Instead, LVT designed them to be the least disruptive to the customer experience. It’s ultimately up to the retailers to dictate their profile settings—how the units behave and even speak—during different times of day.

Opelika made a concerted effort to share information with the community early during the task force, turning many citizens into the program’s champions.

“One of the things I didn’t necessarily expect going into this that has been a pleasant surprise is the input from our community,” Healey said. “Just their presence has sparked a lot of conversations that give us an opportunity to talk to our community about what we’re trying to do to keep them safe and how appreciative they are of the different things being done. They love the fact that this program is going on here.”

Healey added that other businesses and organizations not participating in the task force contacted him personally to ask about procuring LVT units for their properties. Partnership with and among retailers has also improved, he said. Opelika plans to start a separate “Safe for Business” program to connect retailers and improve their working relationships with law enforcement.

“Even though it’s been a fantastic crime-fighting tool, it’s also been a tool that has continued to bring us and our community closer together,” he said. “That’s something you can’t quantify.”

Laird said overall communication with LVT has been solid, but he feels the task force could have communicated better with local retailers before the program started. He said most people in Paducah gave positive feedback about the units after they knew more about them.

“We took the position that this is not a police department project because it’s not,” he said. “We really don’t have much skin in the game here. We didn’t pay for any of this stuff. We’re just providing the crime stats as part of the pilot project.”

Letting the Data Do the Talking

All task force participants meet monthly to review anonymized data from the pilot and extrapolate takeaways, observations, and trends. This includes comparing crime statistics from the previous year, though these numbers are skewed due to COVID-19. Kelley said analyzing the data behind the task force is critical to ensuring they can replicate the model in other locations going forward.

“When I was at Home Depot, it was very difficult to prove out the value without doing some extensive testing,” he said. “I don’t want this model to be about LVT … the goal is to say, this is the model that could be replicated regardless of the type of technology. Just showing the [asset protection] world that it is doable, that you can have a faster process to test technology if we could all collaborate as a community rather than operating in silos.”

As they were forming the task force, LVT consulted some of its top retail clients to ensure they were correctly thinking about deployment and measurement. To further bolster the quantitative focus of the program in an unbiased way, the solution provider has asked the LPRC to conduct an academic study after the pilot phase ends. As part of this process, the council committed resources to collect and aggregate data from local law enforcement and participating retailers willing to share their numbers.

“The main part is that retailers now have greater information to share about what is happening in their parking lots and around their stores, and it is relatively easy to share this information when needed to help investigate a case,” LPRC’s Lowe said.

Kelley said the task force is analyzing calls and types of service from both police departments to measure the program’s effectiveness. He had no additional data to share from the pilot beyond the statistics shared earlier in this story.

Proving the Pilot

With this pilot phase of the task force due to wrap up in May, LVT is already thinking about version two, Kelley said. This includes potential expansion to test cities with a more significant risk area and more retailers to evaluate the impact. The solution provider has already gotten inquiries from locations interested in participating.

“Our sole responsibility has just been aligning everybody from the retail side, local government, local law enforcement,” LVT’s Boggs said. “They’re all trying to combat the same things and make the impact on the communities in the same way. So that’s been our goal; let’s facilitate the conversations and collaboration, [and] provide a vehicle in terms of the data and the impact our product can provide.”

Johnathan Clifton

Retailers participating in the pilot can purchase the LVT units after May. In Opelika, Captain of Detective Division Johnathan Clifton said he hopes local retailers will want to continue partnering with LVT so they can keep some units in town. His department is also looking to purchase some units to supplement other technology and tools—not just for retail crime but for crowd control during major events or specific neighborhoods experiencing increased incidents.

Laird in Paducah says he doesn’t plan to purchase any units for his department and that it would be up to retailers to buy them after the pilot. He said seeing the program’s impact on shrinkage in the participating retail stores would be interesting.

Walmart’s Patel wants to see the program’s final data before he considers purchasing the units in the two test cities.

“I’m patiently awaiting the analysis from the data scientists,” he said. “I want to hear the story from those retailers who participated. Tell me what you’re seeing. The data. And then we can chat about where we go from here.”

Kepler of Advance Auto Parts said he’s open to purchasing the units and commended LVT for its willingness to hear feedback about the program. “It is early, but we are always willing to participate with this type of pilot or proof of concept,” he said. “The more we can work together by leveraging technology and fellow retailers, sharing information, the more likely we are to win this game.”

Lauren Fritsky

Lauren Fritsky is a seasoned journalist and content marketer whose work has appeared on CNN, AOL, USA TODAY, Huffington Post, Travel+Leisure, Entrepreneur, Adweek, and many other websites. She’s spent the last eleven years writing about IT, adtech, martech, retail, and e-commerce for global companies. Lauren earned a bachelor’s degree in English from La Salle University in Philadelphia. Contact her at

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