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Economy, holidays contribute to rise in shoplifting

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Ted Sullivan
November 14, 2009
— Shoplifting reports are up since the recession began in 2008 and typically spike before the Christmas shopping season, according to a Gazette analysis of Janesville police data.

Shoplifting reports in Janesville hit a five-year high of 412 in 2008, and the city is on pace to exceed that number this year.


The Janesville Mall, Walmart, Woodman's, ShopKo and Blain's Farm & Fleet reported the most shoplifting incidents, respectively. Logli Supermarket, Pick 'n Save, Menards and Target rounded out the top 10.


Items stolen ranged from a pack of cigarettes at a convenience store to a television at a large retailer, Sgt. Anne Brophy said. Thefts can be well-planned or impulsive.


Officers spend about an hour on each shoplifting complaint, Brophy said. The complaints drain resources that could be spent on more important investigations.


Shoplifting problems force stores to buy surveillance equipment or hire security staff, Brophy said. The cost of security gets passed on to consumers.


It is unknown if the increase in shoplifting reports in the past two years can be attributed to the city's economic problems, Brophy said.


Police also could be receiving more shoplifting complaints because more stores have captured suspects on video surveillance, she said. In the past, stores might not have reported thefts without the perpetrator's description.


Clint Woodman, vice president of the Woodman's chain, said he wasn't surprised the Janesville store had a high number of shoplifting reports.


The store has a lot of customers, resulting in more thefts, he said.


"There will always be shoplifters," Woodman said. "It's just a matter of not worrying about it and doing what you do best."


The stores do the best they can to prevent shoplifting, and employees get a reward for catching shoplifters, Woodman said.


The stores also have video surveillance to help prosecute thieves.


Employees are not allowed to physically touch shoplifters, but they are encouraged to confront them and call police, Woodman said.


Dan Fogleman, a Walmart spokesman, said every retailer has to deal with theft. He said Walmart works with police to combat the problem.


"Theft in our stores is something we take very seriously," Fogleman said.


Customer and employee safety is most important when targeting shoplifters, and Walmart has been successful in detaining shoplifters, he said.


Employees are taught to be vigilant and observe shoppers to prevent shoplifting, Fogleman said. They are asked to greet customers to provide hospitality and possibly make a thief feel uncomfortable.


Walmart also has security cameras, loss-prevention staff and security tags on merchandise, he said.


During the Christmas shopping season, police will have extra patrol officers in the city's shopping districts to deter theft, Brophy said.


Sgt. Brian Donohoue teaches a shoplifting, conflict resolution and robbery prevention class to stores to deter theft. The class is available to businesses upon request.


In the class, he teaches store employees or security staff how to recognize suspicious activity. He talks about how to approach and detain shoplifters in a safe manner.


Shoplifting complaints are steady, he said, but a good store policy and employee training are the best deterrents for the problem.



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