Violence in Loss Prevention: Dissecting Shoplifter Apprehensions

Posted by David George, CFI, CFE on December 12, 2017

One can only imagine that the theft of someone else’s belongings must have begun shortly after humans first walked the earth. Nearly everyone on the planet has direct or indirect experience with shoplifting – either by being a shoplifter, knowing a shoplifter, or by witnessing a shoplifting event. Shoplifting is everywhere. According to The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting, by Rachel Shteir, there are an estimated 27 million shoplifters in America alone. This is an astonishing number, and one that deserves perspective:

  • There are more shoplifters than there are people with pension plans
  • There are more shoplifters than there are students enrolled in college
  • There are more shoplifters than the entire population of Florida
  • There are nearly 8 times more shoplifters than teachers
  • There are nearly 20 times more shoplifters than Americans serving in the Armed Forces

With shoplifting being so prolific, it is understandable how an entire profession has been created to address the issue. Over the years, many different approaches were developed to initiate an all-out assault on the shoplifting epidemic. But like most everything else, changes in culture, risk and laws have forced the former strategies to run their course and exit into the sunset. To add to the complexity of the situation, shoplifters have steadily become more violent toward employees who try to apprehend them.

What is left are thousands of retail organizations, each with a unique set of policies and procedures for apprehending shoplifters. Are any of them successful? One may argue that the death of even one Loss Prevention (LP) professional at the hands of a shoplifter is enough evidence to suggest the retail industry should regroup and find a common, more unified approach to address this problem. Should retailers simply prohibit their employees, including internal LP professionals, from apprehending shoplifters altogether?

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