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Shoplifting on the rise in Milwaukee according to local news
08/07/2009, 5:22 PM
Filed under: Milwaukee area

From the Journal Sentinel:

“Melissa Friedrich has her workers at Gap in Bayshore Town Center keeping a closer eye on customers these days so that merchandise doesn’t sneak out the door without being paid for.

Next door at Banana Republic, workers make sure to keep fitting rooms locked, especially after being stung by the dirty boxers bandit – a man who tries on underwear, folds his old skivvies back into the packaging and walks out wearing the new ones.

Shoplifting has been around as long as there have been merchants. But local police are receiving more calls from local retailers who say they’ve been ripped off.

In the year ending in April, calls for service to police regarding retail theft increased by at least 19% over the previous 12 months at three of the Milwaukee area’s four biggest malls, a Public Investigator analysis of police calls shows.

Bayshore Town Center in Glendale has seen the largest increase in calls – 41% over the previous year, records show.

Brookfield Square had a 28% rise in calls, while Mayfair had nearly a 20% increase in calls to police for retail theft.

The Greendale Police Department, which responds to Southridge Mall, said it could not provide similar data. But the mall has experienced a small increase in overall thefts, not just retail thefts, for the period, records show.

Retail experts say shoplifting is up throughout the country in part because of the ailing economy.

“Your numbers don’t surprise me,” said Joseph LaRocca, senior asset protection adviser for the National Retail Federation, an industry trade group.

Last year, retailers reported a 5% to 15% increase in shoplifting, LaRocca said.

Nationally, shoplifting cost retailers $11.8 billion in profits in 2007, according to a survey conducted by the University of Florida.

The rise in police calls doesn’t necessarily mean that malls are any less safe for shoppers. Crimes against people didn’t rise significantly at any of the malls, the analysis shows.

Local police and mall officials say the higher numbers could also be due to improvements in the way mall employees spot and report crimes.

“Nobody wants it to happen, but it could be interpreted as people being vigilant,” said Steve Smith, general manager of Mayfair.

At Bayshore Town Center, Glendale police are holding twice-a-year retail theft seminars to teach store workers how to identify a shoplifter.

Officials at Bayshore also say calls to police have increased because more customers are visiting the mall since it opened in the fall of 2006. More overall traffic means more theft, the mall managers and police said.

But workers interviewed at stores throughout Bayshore Town Center said they are simply experiencing more customers helping themselves to a five-fingered discount.

Employees at Gap and GapKids frequently find security tags that were once sewn on clothing, removed and stuffed in the pockets of other clothes still in the store.

Most salespeople at Bayshore said they couldn’t be quoted by the Journal Sentinel because their store is owned by a corporate entity that would not allow them to talk publicly about the store.

But almost all workers praised the Glendale Police Department.

“It’s amazing how quickly they respond,” said Friedrich, the Gap manager.

At least one Glendale officer is always on duty at the mall, said Capt. Mark Ferguson.

“We think that our presence is more than adequate,” Ferguson said.

Mall officials said one challenge in combating retail theft is that not all retailers report crimes or prosecute to the same degree.

“If the store doesn’t prosecute, then there is nothing to charge anybody with,” said Smith, of Mayfair.

Stores that don’t prosecute thieves can get a reputation as an easy target.

LaRocca, with the National Retail Federation, said retailers throughout the country are reporting what they believe to be an increase in organized crime rings.

The targeted items are popular things many people want to buy – designer labels, the newest video game, makeup, he said.

In the end, retail theft adds up to a “hidden crime tax” for consumers, LaRocca said.

Ultimately, retailers pass along the cost of theft to the consumer, which amounts to about a penny-and-a-half for each dollar spent in a store, LaRocca said.

That’s what concerns Ed and Dorothy Kelley, who shopped at Bayshore Mall last week.

“It means higher prices,” Ed Kelley said.”

Beyond moralistic arguments against shoplifting it appears the best they can come up with is that a “hidden crime tax” will increase prices by pennies, which may seem nearly insignificant compared to the rising price of some products due to the current economic crisis.  This is invisible increase of pennies is then supposed to illicit a feeling of injustice on the part of the consumer, who is encouraged to continue to not shoplift and to feel the need to stop others.

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