In criminology, examining why people commit crime is very important in the debate of how crime should be handled and prevented. Many theories continue to be explored, as criminologists seek the best solutions in reducing types and levels of crime, including theft.
Retail theft is a $200 million problem. According to the 28th Annual Retail Theft Survey by Jack Hayes International, 1.2 million shoplifters and dishonest employees were apprehended in 2015 by just 25 large retailers.
In many states, shoplifting is charged and punished as a theft or larceny offense – usually as a petty theft or the state’s lowest-level theft offense if the value of the merchandise stolen falls below a certain threshold ($500, for example).
Retail theft causes consumers to pay higher prices for goods, and is having a detrimental effect on retailers’ bottom-line profits. When someone is caught stealing, normally police are called, but the response time is usually slow, as shoplifting is considered a minor offense.
One theory on how retail theft is being handled comes from entrepreneurs at the Corrective Education Company (CEC), who have created an alternative that benefits both shoplifters and stores. If a participating retail store catches someone stealing merchandise, they give the shoplifter a choice – either the store calls the police, or the shoplifter can agree to sign up for a shoplifting education course that is administered by CEC.
According to CEC, the six-hour education course is designed to explain the costs of shoplifting and ensure that offenders will never steal again. The course costs $400 to take, but CEC notes that more 20,000 offenders have already chosen to take the course rather than risk going to jail, and CEC offers scholarships to those who are unable to afford the $400 fee. CEC says that less than two percent of shoplifters who complete the CEC educational program reoffend, compared with estimates as high as 80 percent for those who do not participate in a restorative justice program.
Darrell Huntsman, CEC founder and CEO says, “Sometimes good people can make bad choices. We believe we are offering a unique option to our clients that provides a more positive alternative to the traditional legal process, benefitting the retailer, the offender and the criminal justice system.”
According to the CEC, retail loss prevention professionals like the solution because they can deal with shoplifters more quickly, and it saves time and money.
Retailers can connect to the CEC network with a preloaded iPad that allows the signup process to be efficient and safe. The technology allows the store to archive witness statements, video footage, or other evidence to ensure organized reporting.
Walmart is currently piloting the solution in about a third of its stores, with plans to expand it, says Mike Lamb, Vice President of Asset Protection for Walmart.
Walmart has typically relied on local law enforcement to deal with crime on company property, but its partnership with CEC is helping to reduce the burden of shoplifting on the criminal justice system and on its loss prevention teams. Walmart executives are hoping the collaboration can help the store earn back some of the $3 billion it loses each year to shoplifting.
“We’ve had the program in pilot at a handful of stores since 2014 so we could evaluate results and effectiveness,” Lamb explains. “We have recently expanded the number of participating stores after the initial pilot was shown to be successful in reducing calls to law enforcement while providing first-time offenders a second chance to make better choices for themselves in the future.”
Lamb adds that Walmart’s Asset Protection Field Teams go through training sessions with the CEC Restorative Justice Providers. “Our providers utilize mobile technology and communicate to the participants on how the program works through pre-recorded videos so that the communication to each participant is both fair and consistent. We also strive to work closely with local law enforcement because we know their collaboration and support is very important to overall success,” he says.
A main goal of the program at Walmart, Lamb says, is to decrease store calls to law enforcement. “The reduction of calls to law enforcement also benefits our associates because they spend less time processing an offender or in court and instead can focus time and efforts on the sales floor.”
What are your thoughts on this restorative justice program? Is it an opportunity for shoplifters to get a fresh start and to repair whatever harm they caused through poor behavior? Or is the approach too “soft”? Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org