No retail business is immune to shoplifting – an offense that can mushroom from a low-grade misdemeanor to a felony in the few seconds it takes for a shoplifter to threaten or assault the store employee who catches him in the act.
Just three months ago, a San Antonio man was charged with robbery and evading arrest after he allegedly shoplifted a $6 bottle of tanning oil at the Family Center IGA grocery store and then pushed down a store employee who tried to detain him. Police tackled and arrested the man after a foot chase.
Port Aransas police arrested another man two years ago after he was accused of stealing some items from an Alister Street business and then pulling a knife on a store employee who confronted him about it.
Responding to a request from the South Jetty, the Port Aransas Police Department delved into its records and reported that the department had received 23 reports of shoplifting in 2007, nine in 2008, 35 in 2009, 44 in 2010 and eight so far this year.
Police Chief Scott Burroughs said it’s hard to say why the general trend appears to be upward.
“It could be for any number of reasons, including better surveillance technology, more vigilant merchants (or a) weaker economy,” Burroughs said.
The South Jetty requested the number of shoplifting arrests made in each of the past five years, but the police department wasn’t able to produce numbers from earlier than June 2009 because the department’s older computer record system didn’t separate shoplifting arrests from other thefts, Burroughs said.
Police records showed that there were 10 shoplifting arrests from June to December 2009, 26 in 2010 and four so far this year.
Records also showed that police issued 22 citations for shoplifting in 2010 and four so far in 2011. Asked why there weren’t citation records for 2006 to 2009, Burroughs said it had to do with an effort that his department made to “streamline our arrest procedures” after he took office in January 2009.
“One of the things we did was implement a procedure to issue (tickets) under cer- tain circumstances in lieu of full custody arrests for many Class C misdemeanor offenses including shoplifting,” Burroughs said.
A Class C misdemeanor is punishable by a fine up to $500, but no jail time.
What kind of person shoplifts?
“Men, women, boys, girls, young, old,” Burroughs said. “There are no specific kinds of people who are the main culprits.”
The strange thing is, offenders usually have the money to pay for whatever it is they’re stealing, the chief said.
So why do they commit theft?
“Maybe it’s a dare, maybe it’s a challenge,” Burroughs said. “It could be a cheap thrill that becomes an expensive lesson.”
Shoplifting “was getting pretty bad” at Bilmore and Sons Hardware Store before the shop had video surveillance cameras installed about a year and a half ago, according to Randy D’Herde, manager.
D’Herde said he believes potential thieves likely have decided against shoplifting items after noticing the cameras.
Before they installed the cameras, shoplifting incidents were happening at least once a week.
“We were noticing items missing all the time,” D’Herde said. “One of the biggest ones we couldn’t figure out was how they got a rechargeable battery off one of the drills. I don’t know how they got that out the door without us noticing.”
No one, however, is saying that shoplifting is epidemic in Port Aransas.
Ted Nicholson, owner of the Board House surf shop, said he doesn’t see much thievery in his shop, probably because it’s a small place where shoplifters don’t feel they can easily get away with anything.
Still, Nicholson was stung this past Spring Break when he found two sets of women’s bathing suits missing in one day. He discovered the price tags cut away from the suits and lying on a dressing room floor.
Nicholson said shoplifters often have a certain guilty look about them even before they take anything.
“They’re always looking at you, watching you,” he said.
Scott Tanzer, owner of Inside Out, said he doesn’t see much theft from his shop. He figures less than $250 worth of merchandise is stolen from Inside-Out each year. That’s nothing compared to a location like Lowe’s, a firm for which he worked as a buyer for a while, he said.
Port Aransas doesn’t suffer too much from shoplifting largely because of the nature of the town’s clientele, Tanzer said.
“We attract a better customer,” he said.
Similarly, Mike Hall said thousands of good people shop at the Family Center IGA, and only a relative few are guilty of shoplifting. Hall is the co-owner and store director of the business.
Store workers have found that shoplifters usually aren’t starving people trying to steal food for sustenance.
“With those few we do catch, probably three quarters of the time, they’re taking something they can live without,” Hall said. Ball caps, cosmetics, fishing tackle and flip-flop sandals are some of the more common objects stolen.
“I think it’s an impulse-type thing,” Hall said.
The IGA has a plain-clothes security officer often patrolling the store’s aisles, and the officer keeps a sharp eye out for shoplifters, Hall said. The store also has security cameras.
Hall said his business has to be careful about how it apprehends shoplifters.
“We will not make a stop on hearsay,” he said. “We appreciate the information, but we have to actually see the incident.”
If there’s some doubt about whether someone actually took something, store workers won’t make a citizen’s arrest, Hall said.
“We do not want to embarrass a good customer, and there is always potential liability that goes along with that,” Hall said.
If the apprehended shoplifter is a minor, the IGA contacts the child’s parents “before we get law enforcement involved,” Hall said.
Stores aren’t the only ones that suffer when shoplifters strike.
“The bottom line is, when someone steals from a business, the honest shoppers are the ones who pay, because … the business has to find a way to absorb that loss,” Hall said.
Questions? Comments? Contact Dan Parker at (361) 749- 5131 or firstname.lastname@example.org.