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The high point of the Christmas season is over; for those people who don’t shop online and still frequent malls, today there will be a rush for people to rid themselves of the ugliest, most distasteful, and strangest gifts they’ve received. But for some folks, the thrill and satisfaction of shoplifting will have colored this season, and many retailers will have paid the price.
Until recently, Walmart Stores offered a choice to shoplifters: they could pay for and complete an education program as a result of their crimes, or face possible prosecution. Unfortunately, Walmart canceled the programs when local governments questioned whether Walmart was acting legally:
California Superior Court Judge Harold Kahn said in an August ruling that the program ‘will always be extortion per California law’ as long as it involves payment to Correction Education or retailers. Only a diversion program ‘under the aegis of prosecutorial authorities’ can request money under California law, the judge wrote.
Other governments and legislators have also been critical of the program.
The background on this situation is as follows:
Walmart hired two companies, Corrective Education Co. and Turning Point Justice, to provide training to first-time shoplifters who had been apprehended at one of their 2,000 stores; if the shoplifters preferred, they could choose to be reported to law enforcement; the great majority opted for the training. Shoplifters paid these companies $350 for their online programs; they also had to make restitution to retailers, bringing total costs to $400 to $425. Other retailers were using these companies’ services, including Burlington Coat Factory, Target, Goodwill Industries, and Bloomingdale’s. To my knowledge, Walmart is the only company that has been taken to court regarding this training and has lost.
Shoplifting has significant costs in terms of manpower and resources:
The average-sized police department spends more than $2,000 responding to a single theft, according to a tool created by RAND Corporation to calculate the cost of crime. Some field hundreds or even thousands of calls each year from retailers about shoplifters.
Police departments in communities where Turning Point and National Association of Shoplifting Prevention (NASP) offer their programs report 41 percent fewer calls from participating retailers and 70 police hours saved a month, according to the company. The police department in Arlington, TX, attributed a 50 percent reduction in retailer calls — the equivalent of more than 12,000 police hours — in part to the adoption of Corrective Education programs by Walmart.
Joe Schrauder, Walmart’s new vice president of asset protection and safety, reported:
Walmart did a small test of the education programs in stores in 2013, then rolled it out to a wider group in 2015, eventually hosting the programs in about 2,000 of its 4,700 U.S. stores. He attributed a 30% decline in shoplifting incidents in 2016 and a 15% decline this year mostly to more-visible theft deterrents, such as additional employees posted at store entrances, but said the programs had a positive impact.
Walmart is discussing ways to partner with local law enforcement organizations in order to restart the program because the costs of shoplifting continue to grow.
In addition, costs to retailers continue to rise, as reported in 2016:
Shoplifting and organized retail crime are major contributors to the external loss component of inventory shrink. The NRSS indicates that shoplifting accounted for 39 percent of the reported shrink in 2015—by far the largest contributing factor to retail loss in the survey. The average loss was about $377 per shoplifting incident, up from nearly $60 in 2014. This is the second sequential year that shoplifting has surpassed employee theft as the largest contributor to inventory shrink in the United States.
A report on shoplifting prevention documented that there were 27 million shoplifters (or, 1 in 11) in the US. The costs to police departments, shopping communities, and losses in sales taxes are immeasurable. The report also stated that the profile of a shoplifter crosses all ages and socio-economic boundaries.
The issues of costs and increases in crime are one major issue. But what does the rise in these crimes say about us as a society? Shoplifting has always existed; these reports also tell us that people who shoplift are not professionals. They do it out of greed, social pressures, and addiction. I’d also suggest there is an erosion of values, a lack of respect for boundaries and the property of others, and a missing commitment to leading a moral life.
I don’t know if there is any way to combat shoplifting from a moral or values perspective. But let’s not throw away opportunities like the Walmart training which ultimately protects those customers who are not guilty of self-centeredness and thievery. We can certainly make it more difficult for the thieves and less costly for the victims who suffer the costs of this illegal and immoral behavior.