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To Detain or Not to Detain

Being a crime victim is tough. And every single retailer, every single store, is a year-round crime victim. When we’re victimized, we have no good choices. We have only the best of some not-so-great options. We’re playing defense. Criminals are taking the initiative, and only they know where, when, and how they’re going to victimize others.

Because criminals choose to attack us, retailers are forced to defend and, in doing so, must make expensive, protective choices that may or may not work. And because offenders may choose to struggle or otherwise injure themselves or others, retailers can even be dragged into the aftermath of a criminal’s lawbreaking attempt.

Criminal offenders freely and personally choose to victimize retail businesses and their customers. So the victimized places deploy an array of deterrent technologies and tactics. But some offenders continue to attack despite layered protective measures. What countermeasures work well enough to deter offender crime attempts? What disruptive tactics are needed to reduce offender rewards for those refusing to be deterred, who instead choose to continue their theft, fraud, or violent actions?

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To prepare for and improve anti-crime outcomes, victimized executives strive to look at both specific crime event dynamics and overall aggregated protective efforts and resulting behavioral effects. Like policing agencies, crime control teams must then weigh whether to detain or not to detain thieves who ignore deterrent programs and are in the process of stealing the company’s assets. Or if they do detain active criminal offenders per state statutes, should they immediately stop detention efforts of offenders who choose to resist lawful detention?

Apprehension may or may not generate general and specific deterrence with some people. Detention can shame the offender or at least convince them or others who know about the apprehension not to try that crime again. Non-detention or immediate release of resistors risks sending the message to those thieves, and others aware of the policy via social media and word of mouth, that the store will not physically resist ongoing theft efforts. This hands-off policy may reduce unwanted confrontation without theft increases. Or it could possibly increase risk for store employees and shoppers if theft activity then increases due to offenders deciding to more frequently steal because of lack of personal downside risk. Increased theft activity may also increase violent theft events and risk exposure. Continuing to detain high-rate, high-impact thieves, even those deciding to resist apprehension, risks the offender injuring himself or others, creating other issues and concerns.

Offenders make most of the harmful choices, such as become a criminal, initiate a crime, continue a crime despite protective measures, resist lawful detention, and injure themselves and/or others. With these dynamics in mind, retail crime victims should make more science-informed, crime-suppression choices, especially due to the plethora of crime’s possible safety, financial, and social effects.

The Loss Prevention Research Council (LPRC) recommends that retailers carefully study the effects of technological and tactical protective measures and dosing options of those measures, including offender detainment for asset recovery and deterrence. For too long, decisions and aftermaths have been largely influenced by opinion and personal injury lawyers rather than rigorous research evidence.

Logic and Evidence
The take-home for this discussion and most of your loss prevention and asset protection work is to first read whatever relevant research you can get your eyes on. Next is to thoughtfully construct a logic model. Use a white board and draw up how you suspect a given technology or tactic (such as detention) might work to dissuade an offender, to overall reduce a problem. Does the treatment deter by convincing a would-be offender they shouldn’t launch or continue a crime attempt because they fear they’ll be caught, inhibited, or denied crime benefits? Does a given tactic better deter certain offender types? How should you deploy the countermeasure in the real world, and does this vary by environment? Where would you put it? What should it look and sound like? Offenders must perceive, recognize, and respect any crime prevention effort we make in order to reduce victimization.

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Next, start testing and improvement. Not much works well right out of the box. How you do things is always more important than what you do. Getting good individual and aggregated crime reduction responses is key, especially while minimizing negative side effects. After you have two to three seemingly workable protective process treatments ready, explore execution and effectiveness differences. What seems to be working and why or why not? Close looks at specific places and overall analyses help dial solution sets in for maximum and cost-effective effects. As you scale up your testing sample size, you can assess impact and indicated adjustments.

This is the process I suggest when approaching life safety, brand protection, and theft and fraud prevention programs. You might find surprising results, or you may observe mild effects, or nothing may happen. But you owe your people and your enterprise better crime and loss suppression, and a more thoughtful, research-supported program should do just that.

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