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Loss Prevention

The Human Factor

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Loss prevention experts generally give hands-off apprehension policies a thumbs up -- though with a hedge.

Chris E. McGoey, a Los Angeles security expert who conducts surveys of commercial properties including retail, says any apprehension policy must account for what he terms as “variables.”

“It’s always a tough decision” for retailers considering hands-off vs. hands-on, McGoey says, “because there are a thousand variables that you can’t anticipate necessarily or write into a policy.”

Variables run the gamut from store location, industry segment and training to shoplifter profile, he says. Large retailers typically will examine databases to discern patterns on claims and litigation when establishing policies. The probability of what could happen in a particular scenario can determine which approach a retailer should take.

Retailers have to make “a risk assessment,” McGoey says.

Another consideration is an understanding of the relationship between policy and practice, McGoey adds. “You can have a very sound, very reasonable and very thorough policy, and a very well thought out and articulated training program, but then the human factor comes in.”

J. Patrick Murphy of LPT Security Consulting in Houston calls hands-off apprehension policies “outstanding” because they keep the focus on the primary aspect of loss prevention: recovering stolen merchandise.

Too often, Murphy says, hands-on policies take the wrong approach because retailers are focused on holding thieves for prosecution.

“The first thing that you do when you stop somebody is get the merchandise back,” he says. “Once you recover that merchandise, then, if they resist or flee, the loss prevention agent becomes a witness for police to pursue prosecution. Preventing the loss is the goal.”

Key for retailers is understanding how high the risk can go during a shoplifiting apprehension, says Murphy, a former LP director at Eckerd Corp.

“Retailers are not, nor are they an extension of, law enforcement,” he says. “Retailers are in the loss prevention business. The question becomes, what benefit does the retailer gain by prosecuting someone for theft?”

Murphy says hands-off policies do more to ensure that loss prevention agents take the role of “witness” during a shoplifiting apprehension, leaving law enforcement activities pertaining to arrests to the police.