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The Cost of Repeat Offenses by Consumer Shoplifters

Sponsored by the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention [NASP]

In light of steadily increasing felony thresholds and decreasing criminal justice resources and sanctions to prevent recidivism, it is timely to look again at the cost of repeat offenses among non-professional consumer shoplifters.

Over a twelve-month period, NASP collected information from 15,000 consumer-shoplifting offenders (7,702 adults and 7,475 juveniles) who completed one of its shoplifter education programs. (Offenders participate in NASP education either under court order as a condition of their diversion, sentence or probation, through the voluntary acceptance of a retailer’s educational offer, or purely of their own volition.)

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The Cost of the Current Shoplifting Incident

Regarding the current shoplifting incident, offenders were asked:

“What was the value of the merchandise you shoplifted this time?”

Using the conservative dollar amount shown in parentheses, we estimate that these 15,000 offenders caused, at a minimum, more than $1,500,000 in theft damages, or about $100 per incident. However, looking at the value of one incident does not tell the whole story.

Uncovering the Real Cost

It is both the number of incidents and the losses due to previously undetected shoplifting offenses that is critical to determining the real cost of consumer shoplifters. Think about what might be learned if retailers could track the activity of shoplifters over time, the same way internal offenders are tracked to build a case and paint a complete picture.

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Unfortunately, without catching every shoplifter every time at every store, it is not possible. Thus, there is a significant gap in the information about misdemeanor offenders—information used to make key decisions on apprehension and prosecution policies as well as loss prevention priorities. To help fill this information gap, we offer some additional data about these offenders.

Regarding the magnitude of their shoplifting, the offenders were asked:

“How long have you been shoplifting?”

While 54% of adults and 60% of juveniles responded that this was the first time they ever shoplifted, the other 46% and 40%, respectively, said that they were not only repeat offenders but had been shoplifting for an extended period of time prior to this incident.

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Compounding this is the fact that only 14% of adults and just 6% of juveniles in the survey said they were ever arrested for shoplifting prior to this incident. This bears repeating, as it is the crux of the issue.

46% of adults admitted they were repeat offenders, yet only 14% were ever caught and arrested before this incident.

40% of juveniles admitted they were repeat offenders, but only 6% were ever caught and arrested before this incident.

The cost of the countless incidents that go undetected, unreported and unpunished has to be staggering.

In an effort to quantify just how staggering, we looked at the frequency of repeat offenders’ thefts.

Without having asked this specific question, we used long-standing data we had at our disposal to create Figure 1, below.

The data included a phone survey of repeat offenders, which indicated that 27% of offenders steal weekly or more often. To be conservative in our estimates, we counted the rest as casual offenders who steal only occasionally and estimated their shoplifting at just twice a year. We also took at face value that 54% of these offenders were truthful that they had never shoplifted before and thus only have a single incident to consider. Lastly, we used an average theft of $125 to be more in line with retail reporting.

Figure 1. The Cost of Repeat Offenders

Combining the information at hand—the dollar value stolen per incident, the number of consumers who were repeat offenders, and the known frequency of repeat offenders’ thefts—paints a more complete picture. It illustrates that even with those we consider non-professional, consumer shoplifters there is a major gap between the recorded losses per apprehension vs. total losses caused by any given offender over time before there is an apprehension, which is over $1,800 per offender before their apprehension.

Turning an Eye to the Future

We cannot ignore the impact that misdemeanor offenders who steal for so long before apprehension—much less arrest—are having on the proliferation of shoplifting and the steady growth of employee theft and organized retail crime. The criminal justice community’s growing tolerance for petty theft, caused by an interest in conserving resources and reducing incarceration, means this is likely to get worse before or if it gets better.

Therefore, it is vital that retailers expand their arsenal from prevention and detection to prevention, detection and stopping the next offense. The most practical way to reduce the cost of repeat offenders is to take action to stop the next offense by encouraging and supporting communities’ use of offense-specific and proven effective offender education every time a shoplifter is apprehended.

Use the NASP Advantage

Take action to increase the prevention value of your apprehensions. Share this information about the cost of repeat offenses with communities to enlist their support and encourage the use of criminal justice led education programs for misdemeanor offenders. Speak to NASP—a 501(c)3 non-profit organization with 30 years of experience facilitating shoplifter education with the criminal justice system. Find out how you, and the communities you serve, can put NASP’s experience to work remembering that reducing recidivism cuts losses and improves safety for both stores and communities.

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