Thursday, August 12, 2010

Shoplifters - How a Community Cannibalizes Itself

Post by the Hawthorne Hawkman, image from the Jane's Addiction blog.

On the Upper Willard Homewood (U-WHO) listserv, shoplifting at CVS was a recent concern raised by members. I've also been hearing buzz that Cub Foods on Broadway is really struggling financially from the costs of shoplifting - both paying off-duty police for prevention, and the loss of items successfully stolen. Some of the same sources say this was a large reason why the Target store left Broadway several years ago.

Folks, if this problem continues, our community faces the very real threat of losing core services and employers. I won't pretend to know the answers for how to stop this from happening, but I do hope to provide a forum where this can be discussed. What products are being stolen from stores in our community, especially on Broadway? For what purpose? Surely businesses like Cub and CVS factor in some degree of shoplifting into their bottom line. So how much worse is the problem here, that financial viability is threatened? Who are the people doing the stealing? What can be done to stop this?

As I am able, I will be going to these two businesses and discussing these very topics with the managers. In the meantime, I encourage North by Northside readers to weigh in as well.

20 comments:

  1. I don't know about CVS, but I've heard from many people, including some friends who are Target corporate folks that shoplifting and employee theft played a big role in the closing of the Northside Target store, and I've heard that Cub has huge problems with the same thing. The employee theft is probably the saddest part of the problem though. Folks are thieving themselves out of their own jobs. Hiring locally has a few drawbacks, it seems.

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  2. Part of the problem is that crime seems to be away of life in certain parts of the city. What goes on in NoMi would never be allowed in the well-to-do areas of south Minneapolis. Selling bootleg DVD, prostitution, drug dealing, repairing cars on the street doesn't happen because the residents and police won't allow it.
    But there is just so much petty crime in NoMi that there are not enough enforcers to prevent it. Shoplifting, theft, buying stolen goods from guys on the street, drug dealing, prostitution, etc. are so common that the police don't have the manpower or time to deal with it. And the bad guys know it, and conduct their business there.
    And then you have some nitwits from the UofM who write a report that says that NoMi needs Hmong officers on the day shift, and that is a priority. No, it's not even worth putting on the wish list because there are more serious problems. Until the message gets out that NoMi will not allow crime...it will continue do depress property values, and cannibalize the community.

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  3. Anon 10:44 said: "And then you have some nitwits from the UofM who write a report that says that NoMi needs Hmong officers on the day shift, and that is a priority. No, it's not even worth putting on the wish list because there are more serious problems."

    I couldn't disagree more. Building relationships with people living in the community is the only way forward, precisely because police can't be everywhere at all times. Every time a resident has contact with a police officer, there's the opportunity of building an ally, or the possibility of turning the community member into a skeptical resident who will be reluctant to work with the police in the future. Working to get Hmong officers in NoMi is an important investment that will reap rewards far, far beyond a couple of police officer salaries.

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  4. On the surface it is amazing that we don't have more services with the population base in NoMi.

    I think that the city has left the bar pretty low in regards to what they are willing to prosecute and as a result the cops don't even bother to do enforcement. Store clerks working a minimum wage job aren't going to risk an altercation without this support.

    Most corporate entities are here as a result of some sweetheart deal made to acquire a footprint and the thought of sustaining long term profitability never is considered.

    Some of the blame for shrink in inner-city stores should fall back on Corporate negligence for failing to take into consideration the culture and economies of the communities the company stores are located when they design and implement retail operations. Most corporate stores are a clone of successful suburban counterparts. Inner city stores are different and things like this need to be considered:

    1. Product Placement
    2. Merchandising Design
    3. Visibility and Store Design
    3. Staffing
    4. Theft Control Training
    5. Visual Deterrents (Cameras/Monitors)

    (I have never understood the wisdom of corporate decisions to install self-checkouts in these stores as an alternative to hiring additional staff. This is clearly a challenge to steal with the alibi of a innocent mistake.)

    The ultimate failure to be successful in an intercity location is telegraphed to other corporations who will not risk expanding into that community no matter what incentives are offered.

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  5. I know some people that occasionally steal just because they can... candy bars or anything small enough to easily conceal... it's almost a 'stick it to the man' kind of gesture. But I completely disagree with the practice and the sentiment.

    Some people steal because they need something (toothbrush, personal items, food, etc) and some people just need something to steal.

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  6. Here's an idea: have Cub Foods give items it's going to throw away to local FOOD BANKS. The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donations Act protects Cub Foods if it turns out there's anything wrong with the items. Really, this law needs to be publicized more...

    Furthermore, Cub Foods should promote the locations and hours of the food banks.

    This may not stop ALL the shoplifting, but it may stop SOME of it.

    I'd also look hard at the clerks and see if "sliding" practices are taking place. Cub has some real rough-looking clerks.

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  7. The sliding practice is a huge problem at places like Cub and CVS.

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  8. I can get behind the idea of promoting and giving to the local food banks. I don't know why more stores don't do it. Plenty of stores back in my home state throw good things out (which people take advantage of by dumpster diving). It's ridiculous the amount of usable stuff that gets tossed. I know that more often than not, my own family could benefit from knowing where the local food banks are. After bills are paid, we're strapped for cash like a lot of people.

    That said, I'm sure a lot of the shoplifting still wouldn't stop. I used to hang around the kind of people who didn't need to steal, but they did it for kicks. Also, some people want the really good stuff that they can't afford to have. I knew a secretary from my high school whose husband forced her to stuff steaks in her purse because all they could afford was lunch meat and hamburger. Of course, she eventually got arrested and lost her job over his idiocy.

    The only way I could see it stopping is if the patrols are increased (and no offense to the local police because I don't see all of them doing it, but I do occasionally see the same guy standing at the front of the store, gabbing away with staff instead of walking through the aisles). Not sure if they have any cameras set up, but those might be beneficial, too. (As long as they don't do like Wal-Mart and put up the black bubbles everywhere to make it look like they're watching you, but truthfully, the only cameras they have are the ones at the customer service desk and in the cash office in the back of the store. I used to work there, so I know how much shoplifting when on because of that.)

    Cub is a company that I'm sure can afford to do these things, but they probably don't care to because if things get really terrible, they can just pull out of the community.

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  9. Internal theft is always worse than external theft, unless there is zero security. If you look at most places with cameras, they focus more closely on the help than the customers.

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  10. "it's almost a 'stick it to the man' kind of gesture."

    lol--unfortunately, it's more like a "stick it to your neighbors who would like to have a place to work and/or shop in the neighborhood" kind of gesture!

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  11. @Anon 11:14, thanks for refuting the previous anon comment before I had a chance to get around to it. Well done.

    @John and La Vie, I too support those initiatives aimed at getting more food on the food shelves. But I am skeptical about whether that would actually result in significantly less people stealing. In talking with folks in NoMi, the buzz seems to be that stolen items consist of things such as candy or high-end meat like porterhouse steaks.

    The meat thing ALMOST makes sense; if you're going to steal, why bother with the 73% ground chuck? May as well get the good stuff. But if that's the mentality, I'm not sure how many of those crooks are going to go to a food shelter instead.

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  12. Yeah, that's why I said that most people are probably stealing to get the luxury items they can't afford (or don't want to pay for) and can't obtain at a food bank.

    I did many stints in retail before I grew ill. It's ridiculously difficult to stop shoplifting despite all the efforts put into combating it, and around here, I would imagine it's almost impossible just to lower the amount done.

    Unless people are going to go through the aisles and shout "if you keep stealing from here, the store is going to shut down, and you'll have nothing left to steal" into a megaphone, your best bet is more security and cameras trained on all of the aisles (with someone watching them, of course).

    Wal-Mart trained us to walk down our respective departments, keeping an eye out for suspicious activity. We had codes we called over the speakers (I can't remember what the number was now) to alert management that they needed to be present. Problem is, that didn't work well with some employees because they didn't care what people were doing to the merchandise. Also, other employees were stealing from the store, themselves (which I would bet is happening somewhat at Cub, too).

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  13. I always got the impression that theft of the higher end items such as porterhouse or t-bones was for the resale and not necessarily for personal enjoyment. Don't tell me you've never been approached by the steak man on WBro? He's always around Merwins, Hathorn(sic) Crossings etc.

    Perhaps Cub should implement a new approach to employee compensation: create a division of on the floor employees who are strictly compensated based on the amount of loss prevention they achieve. Cashiers and aisle attendants and stock room attendants. The lower the loss for the week, the more they get paid. Probably much more complex than the simple way it's written here, but employee buy-in seems like the right approach.

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  14. Aside from the suggestions I've read here, which are great, my advice to Cub is class up your act! I stopped shopping there after several encounters with expired dairy products. About that same time the meat in the deli cooler looked absolutely gray. I called the health department & haven't been back since. If they ran a good, trustworthy store than they would retain middle class customers with transportation who can just as easily go to a Lund's. If they retained us, the shoplifting wouldn't hurt so much. People in poverty are hungry. Anyone who steals food is desperate. I refuse to demonize them. OK, maybe some steal what some of you call "luxury meats". But, um the quality of meat at that store is so bad - maybe you need a porterhouse to get the quality of a sirloin from another store.

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  15. I buy meat from that guy on West Broadway. I don't care where it comes from. If someone wants to show me where the meat was stolen from i'll be glad to give it back. I think I can stand to lose the small amount the meat actually costs me.

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  16. Eh, I would imagine it's about half and half, Megan. Some steal to feed themselves, and other steal to make some cash for drugs, alcohol, or whatever else.

    Yeah, I've been approached by some old guy selling steaks out of a bag, but it was down here by Broadway and Irving. I guess he gets around? Anyway, I've never bought from him. Don't have much money for steak, no matter how cheap, and the meat looked a little on the old side.

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  17. Wow, stolen meant? what a LOW... Iv cooked in many kitchens and been to culinary school. They suggest that you bring the steak to room temp before putting it on the heat. But if you bring it back to fridge temp then thats when bacteria e coli is at its peak and is too easily transmitted. Cooking it doesn't "kill the germs". plus buying stolen goods is most likely supporting illegal habits

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  18. You don't have to go to culinary school to know that a steak that has been riding around in some bums pants can't be good for you.

    But hey, some people have to learn the hard way - LOL!

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  19. @ Anon 5:41-- Oh God, when we're discussing bums carrying around meat in their pants, by all means let's try to avoid talking about "the hard way"!

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  20. *queue spanky pete voice now*

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