Think of shoplifting as a game between two sets of people: the shoplifters, (of course) and the store security personnel, who are sometimes referred to as loss prevention or simply LP. The shoplifters have the advantage in the game for three reasons: They are unidentified until they steal. They may use any method (or a combination of methods) to get goods out of a store. The shoplifter has no rules and only one objective: Don’t get caught.
Unlike shoplifters, who have no rules, LP employees must follow five basic guidelines when it comes to apprehending shoplifting suspects. These five rules vary slightly from state-to-state and company-to-company, but they’re basically the same principle. They exist because large chains wish to avoid lawsuits and place extra restrictions on personnel to ensure an airtight case when stopping a shoplifter.
#1: The Rule of Selection
Loss prevention must see the item selected from their store. Suppose a woman purchased a sweater at another store a few minutes before and came into your store looking for a matching pair of pants? The LP happens to observe this woman holding up the sweater (with tags clearly visible) against several pairs of pants in your store. Then all of a sudden, she opens her handbag (or shopping bag), places the sweater inside, and exits the store. Did she steal the sweater? If LP did not personally see the woman select the sweater from a rack in the store, she must NOT be stopped.
#2: The Rule of Concealment
The LP must see the shoplifter conceal the merchandise in their pockets, coat, or pants, inside a handbag or backpack, or simply inside the shopping cart. The LP officer needs to be able to say specifically, "the male subject has placed a Hangover DVD inside the front waistband of his pants."
#3: The Rule of Observation
LP must maintain continuous observation of the shoplifter. An LP officer simply cannot see an item concealed and then go outside and wait for the subject. Many shoplifters are skittish, nervous types and often drop merchandise they've concealed. If a Loss Prevention officer stops a suspected shoplifter and they have no merchandise on them, the store cannot make a case against them, and the shoplifter may sue for wrongful detainment. This is the most crucial rule for store employees and also where the most mistakes happen. No matter how good your store's camera system is, there is virtually no such thing as 100% continuous observation.
#4: The Rule of Exit
LP must watch the shoplifter pass the point of purchase.
Exiting the store with merchandise proves to the police and the courts that the shoplifter had no intention of paying for it.
If a security officer were to stop a suspected shoplifter before they reached the cash register, the suspect could claim they were going to go to the register and pay for it. This applies even if it is a concealed item.
#5: The Rule of Apprehension
LP must apprehend the shoplifter outside of the store. This is a rule for a few reasons. Again, if the shoplifter is outside, it means that he or she passed the cash register with no intention of paying for the products. By apprehending the shoplifter outside the store, this rule ensures that if there is a confrontation between a shoplifter and the store detective, it will not happen inside near happy shoppers.
No store wants to make their shoplifting stops public. It's an ugly side of the shopping experience that no one wants to see. The store also does not want their customers getting hurt in an altercation since some shoplifters will fight or even carry weapons. Though rare, both shoplifters and store security have been killed during shoplifting stops.
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