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Keeping things on the up and up: Learning to prevent shoplifting

DAILY LEADER / RHONDA DUNAWAY / Sgt. David C. Johnson (left) of Brookhaven Police Department speaks to Brookhaven merchants Monday about shoplifting in preparation for the upcoming holiday shopping season. Chief of Police Bobby Bell (right) was also on hand for a question-and-answer session following the program.

DAILY LEADER / RHONDA DUNAWAY / Sgt. David C. Johnson (left) of Brookhaven Police Department speaks to Brookhaven merchants Monday about shoplifting in preparation for the upcoming holiday shopping season. Chief of Police Bobby Bell (right) was also on hand for a question-and-answer session following the program.

Brookhaven shopkeepers learned this week about how to balance hospitable, friendly service with an effort toward thwarting would-be shoplifters.

Marketing director Kay Burton spearheaded a workshop luncheon Monday for members of the Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce about shoplifters in advance of the upcoming holiday shopping season. Presenting the program were Brookhaven Police Department Chief Bobby Bell and Sgt. David C. Johnson.

Johnson started the workshop by saying that Brookhaven’s merchants are known for the type of friendly service that makes customers feel welcomed, but not harassed.

“We’re known in Brookhaven for the shopping experience we have here,” Johnson said, “friendly service that welcomes customers to come in and shop and not be harassed by aggressive salespeople. But, a lot of the things we do in our specialty shops here leaves us open for shoplifters. This is good for the honest shopper, but leaves us vulnerable to the shoplifters.”

Johnson said $25 billion is lost in the U.S. each day to shoplifters. He said there are two different types – amateur shoplifters and professional shoplifters.

“Amateur shoplifters do it for their own personal gain or thrill – they get a high from it,” he said. “Professional shoplifters are lifting for profit – they steal to sell. We have some that go as far as taking orders. They take the merchandise and convert it to cash.”

Johnson warned that there is no typical shoplifter – they come in all ages, all races, and appear as normal people. He gave an example of a recent shoplifter caught downtown that had the appearance of a typical soccer mom. She was driving a new SUV, dressed nicely, had nice jewelry on, was with her nine-year-old son, but she lifted more than $600 in merchandise from a local merchant.

Thanks to the clerk quickly thinking to go out and get the woman’s tag number and immediately call the BPD, while also noting the direction the suspect was headed in, officers were able to stop her, make the arrest and return the merchandise to the store.

“There’s no description of the typical shoplifter,” Johnson said, “or we’d know them immediately when they came in the door. These people are creative, so we have to be creative, too.”

Johnson gave a few tips to prevent theft:

• The number one way thieves steal is by concealing merchandise, so be aware of oversized clothing, merchandise being stuffed under babies in baby carriers. Pay attention to accessories such as bags, umbrellas and boots or they may stuff things in pants-legs.

• When customers come in greet them right away. This lets them know that you know they are in the store.

• Make sure your clerks are attentive, because if they aren’t, shoplifters will come in on their shift.

• Look for mannerisms – if you see a person paying more attention to you than the merchandise, they may be trying to develop a pattern with you, like trying to see if you’re too busy or if you’re preoccupied with paperwork.

• Develop a reputation for not putting up with thieves with signage such as “Shoplifters will be prosecuted,” and then follow through with prosecuting offenders. Put a limit on the number of items they can carry into the dressing room.

• You may have a bag-check policy posted for any outside shopping bags that come into the store. Most of the larger department stores have one.

• Install surveillance cameras inside and outside of the store – outside cameras are a good idea for vehicle identification.

Johnson also gave advice to protect merchants against fraudulent returns:

• Instead of giving cash back, use store credit or exchange.

• If they used credit cards, agree only to credit the card back the amount of purchase.

• For check writers tell them there is a waiting period for their check to clear the bank.

Johnson advises merchants if they suspect someone in their store is stealing, to call the police immediately and let them handle the situation.

“You can do what is in your comfort zone,” he said. “but, ask yourself, ‘Is it worth a confrontation and risking my personal safety?’ when you can discretely call police.

“We average a one to two minute response time. And legally you can’t hold the suspect or force them to show you the contents of their purse. You can ask, but they don’t have to comply,” Johnson said.

He explained merchants should call police with a physical description of the suspect, a description of the vehicle and a tag number if possible and be sure to note what direction the vehicle leaves in.

Johnson closed with an open invitation to merchants to call on the BPD anytime.

“If you are concerned or suspicious about something that’s going on in your business, just call us,” he said. “You are not bothering us – that’s our job. We will also be glad to watch merchants leave at closing with deposits to make sure they get from the store to their car in safety.”

Brookhaven Police can be reached at (601) 833-2424.