THE 5-FINGER DISCOUNT GETS BIGGER
STATEWIDE Shoplifting is an enduring nuisance but in tough economic times the problem goes from bad to worse.
As unemployment rises and goods become pricier, the temptation to steal only intensifies. “We have long seen the inverse relationship between the economy and crime,” says Portland State University criminologist Lynette Feder. “Often they’re doing it just to get by.”
It’s the staples such as food and clothes that are being targeted, says Mark Doyle, president of Jack L. Hayes International, a national loss-prevention firm based in Florida. The company publishes an annual report on nationwide shoplifting trends. In 2006, thieves stole more than $6 billion worth of goods from 23 major retailers.
Exact figures are hard to get because businesses generally don’t elaborate on their own shoplifting headaches to avoid being seen as a place that attracts criminal activity, says Robert Swanberg, owner of Gateway Services, a Portland-based security consulting firm. Also, many businesses deal with caught shoplifters internally, often with civil citations or threats to prosecute if they return.
But even those crimes reported show an increase. In Portland, crime was down in all categories for the first half of 2008 except shoplifting, say police, which is up 83 incidents from the same time period last year, 2,142 to 2,225. Eugene police have seen an 11% jump from 2006.
Dan Floyd, spokesman for Safeway in Oregon, says shoplifting is increasing, with food and easily resold items such as baby diapers and shaving razor blades being hot targets. Shoplifting accounts for $10 million in annual company loses in the state, says Floyd.
Many of the bigger retailers are less focused on small-time shoplifters than they are on organized retail crime. Last year Floyd, then a lobbyist for the Northwest Grocery Association, spearheaded and helped pass a bill mandating stronger enforcement and stiffer penalties for people in possession with intent to resell stolen merchandise worth more than $5,000.
Swanberg says laying off workers in a faltering economy only compounds the problem. Fewer workers on the floor emboldens thieves, leading to more swiped goods. “The big stores suffer the most,” he says.
Target, which has 17 stores in Oregon, says it’s also seeing more theft. In response, the company is training workers in preventative customer service skills, using more surveillance equipment and pushing for stronger shoplifting laws.
For some business though, shoplifting is a boon. “I am getting more phone calls every day,” security firm boss Swanberg says.