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‘Don’t do it:’ shoplifting not worth cost

Email   Print   Share By Heather Graham, Sentinel News Editor
July 22, 2010 | Living
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Jenifer Immer, Sentinel Designer
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A loss prevention specialist at AAFES monitors video feeds from around the store to check for theft or suspicious activities. Heather Graham, Sentinel News Editor
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Although many items are not displayed or are contained in secure packaging as well as under surveillance, cosmetics and fragrances are targets for shoplifters.
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Electronics, video games and DVDs often top the list for shoplifting despite video surveillance.
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Video screens capture the entire floorplan of the Clear Creek Post Exchange, inside as well as outside. Loss prevention associates can zoom on particular areas for improved surveillance.
Most often, it is an incidental crime of opportunity, and what is taken is of little value, but shoplifting is a crime and it is taken seriously at Fort Hood.

Law enforcement officers and loss prevention staff have a message for potential shoplifters.

“Don’t do it.”

Fort Hood does not have the shoplifting numbers that major retailers outside the gates see.

“We don’t have numbers like the mall or Wal-Mart,” Ricky Rounds, chief, Intelligence Division, Fort Hood Directorate of Emergency Services, said. “Our society is different.”

Theft of any kind or value adversely affects not only retailers but consumers by driving up prices to cover losses and expand security.

As with other criminal activity on the installation, shoplifting rates have seen a decline over the last three years.

A focus on Electronic Article Surveillance systems, closed circuit television cameras and an aggressive youth shoplifting awareness campaign resulted in a decrease in shoplifting at the Fort Hood Exchanges last year as incidents decreased by 22 percent, declining from 188 in 2008 to 147 in 2009.

The value of merchandise involved in these incidents also dropped, from $23,762.81 in 2008 to $21,267.18.

The Army & Air Force Exchange Service has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to deter theft and keep prices competitive.

“We have lots of tools we are using to combat the loss within the confines of the facility,” George Shaffer, AAFES area loss prevention manager, said.

In addition to video surveillance, computer programs and electronic theft deterrent systems, AAFES uses loss prevention associates and undercover detectives to prevent theft and apprehend shoplifters. These associates blend well with shoppers and are difficult to spot.

“One of them could be standing right next to you and you wouldn’t even know it,” Shaffer said.

If the undercover associates do not spot theft, the cameras will.

“Most major retailers have very solid video networks,” Rounds said. “It’s nearly impossible to steal something in an AAFES without being seen by loss prevention.”

Video surveillance systems provide coverage of 100 percent of the shoppettes and exchanges located on Fort Hood.

Rounds said much of the shoplifting on the installation is committed by juvenile family members and the theft is rarely planned or professional.

“It’s mostly cosmetics, fragrances and video games,” Renetta Kitt, loss prevention manager, AAFES, said.

“We have aggressively targeted juvenile shoplifting through training sessions with children 5-17 years of age,” Fort Hood AAFES General Manger Danny Schmidt said. “Additionally, we have increased EAS and stepped up tagging of high demand merchandise.”

With a dual mission to provide quality goods and services at competitively low prices and to generate earnings to support the Directorate of Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs, AAFES, which has contributed more than $2.4 billion to military quality-of-life programs in the past 10 years, continues to focus its efforts on reducing theft.

“Shoplifting from the exchange affects the entire military community,” Schmidt said. “Because AAFES is a military command with a mission to return earnings to quality-of-life programs, shoplifting impacts the bottom line and, in essence, takes money directly from the pockets of military families.”

When a shoplifting incident arises, AAFES Loss Prevention associates involve law enforcement officers.

A member of the AAFES loss prevention team calls DES and apprehends the suspect. Patrol officers from DES meet with loss prevention staff and the suspect in the loss prevention office where the items are cataloged for the police report.

Officers take a copy of the surveillance video and shoplifters are issued a revocation of exchange privileges, Rounds said. Repeat offenders can be banned from the installation.

Juvenile and adult cases are adjudicated in federal magistrate court. Juveniles often receive a fine or community service. Shoplifting is a $50 trial misdemeanor and the crime is taken seriously.

“At Fort Hood, 100 percent of shoplifting cases are adjudicated,” Rounds said. “This is not a ticket.”

This includes juveniles.

It’s a painful learning experience for them,” Rounds said.

Soldiers caught stealing could face punishment from their unit because their commander will be notified of the charges.

Every shoplifter will get a civil recovery demand letter, Shaffer said.

In addition to disciplinary action and/or criminal prosecution, the Federal Claims Collection Act, which began March 1, 2002, allows AAFES to enact a flat, administrative cost (Civil Recovery) of $200. There may be further fees, in addition to the Civil Recovery Program, depending on the condition of the recovered merchandise.

“It’s not worth it,” Kitt said.
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