Cracking the case against habitual organized retail criminals

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Loss Prevention Conference and EXPOThere’s been plenty of press in recent years chronicling the epidemic that is organized retail crime. But how do habitual retail crimes affect the industry, retail employees and customers beyond dollars and cents?

At Wednesday afternoon’s breakout session Habitual Offender: Beyond Apprehension, loss prevention executives from GAP and CVS Caremark discussed the resonating effect habitual ORC offenders can have on retailers on a national scale. Jason Adams, GAP’s National Manager for Organized Retail Crime, provided a brief profile of the every day habitual offender. These individuals can be verbally abusive, intimidating and physically violent, and their “aggregated, brazen acts go beyond the loss of retail sales. These repeated offenses compromise the safety of employees and overall shopping experience, and can have long term effects on one store or multiple stores across America,” Adams noted.

Jason Adams, National Manager for Organized Retail Crime, GAP

CVS Caremark’s Organized Retail Crime Manager Deborah Lanford identified the elements needed to build a case against habitual offenders. While some retailers may not have all the resources at their disposal, Lanford advised that a retailer’s most valuable resource is law enforcement. Websites such as the Los Angeles Area Organized Retail Crime Association (LAAORCA) and the Bay Area Organized Retail Crime Association (BAORCA), she said, are just two examples of secure, ORC-focused channels for retailers and their law enforcement peers to share information, trends and post alerts. These free tools are invaluable when prioritizing cases to take to the level of litigation.

Adams gave an in-depth look at the interview process he uses with potential offenders. When done effectively, he said, these procedures are crucial in identifying the key components of a case and can provide clues to even larger crime rings:

  • Introduction: Act sympathetic to calm down and build trust and rapport. Put emotions to the side to convey “I’m here to help” and find a common ground. Don’t oversell or be disingenuous.
  • Rationalizations: This is the transition to asking questions and getting solid information. Being up-front to sympathize with reasons like, “it’s to provide for my family” will give them something to relate to.
  • Questions: While everyone has their style, Adams said the interviewer must reinforce that the interviewee’s statements will remain confidential and will not compromise their reputation with their families, friends and potentially other organized retail criminals.
  • Follow-up: Thank them and ensure they have your contact information. The next step is to work with internally and with law enforcement to verify and validate their responses.

The process of surveillance, documentation, and creating an operations plan to project the desired legal outcome, Lanford concluded, is crucial to proving your case in the victim impact statement. “This letter sent to the court is your opportunity to paint a vivid picture of the full impact of these crimes on your business. Explaining the negative effect on brand integrity, cost of hiring and retraining new employees, and the overall shopping experience shows the offenses committed impacted your company in more ways than one.”

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