By Evelyn Ticona, Jen Herring, & Ashley Duchesneau
Managing Editor of The Beacon & Contributing Writers
Retail companies across the nation refuse to prosecute shoplifters due to the cost post-arrest and the risk of hurting the brand’s image. As a result, the majority of shoplifting cases go undetected because they’re not reported.
“Personally, I feel like the laws are made just to protect them,” said Jen Santiago, assistant manager of Arden B. in the Palm Beach Gardens Mall. “It’s not really for us.”
According to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, “Shoplifting has become one of the most prevalent crimes in the U.S., averaging about 550,000 incidents per day resulting in more than $13 billion worth of goods being stolen from retailers each year.”
What most people don’t realize is the effect shoplifting has on the honest consumer. Retail companies do not want to pay for the cost of prosecution after an arrest. Instead, they will raise the price of clothing to compensate for losses.
“It all gets reflected:people we’re able to hire, price of the clothing and being shut down with internal theft or external theft. It all adds up,” Santiago said.
Each store is allotted a loss and prevention budget for stolen items. However, if the total cost of items stolen runs over budget, prices will go up.
“The stores are not going to give it away free and continue to take the loss. They’re just going to pass it on new customers,” said Gary Frechette, director of security at the Gardens Mall.
According to the National Retail Federation, in 2009, 92 percent of retailers said their company was the victim of organized retail crime.
Experts say that as the economy has weakened, shoplifting has increased. That is not the case at the Gardens Mall, according to Frechette. In February only two cases of shoplifting were reported at the Gardens Mall, compared to last year’s 16 cases.
Amanda Soto, store manager for the GAP store at the Mall at Wellington Green said that she teaches her associates “real service.” Acknowledgement of shoppers as they enter the store is a must, she said.
“If they know that we know they are there and that we are watching, they are less likely to put something in their bag and walk away,” Soto said. “If we see someone trying to steal a pair of pants, we use recovery statements.”
Video Flip of Gardens Mall Security below:
In the two years Soto has been store manager, she has never prosecuted anyone for shoplifting.
“I think the policy is the same across the board: there’s always a dollar amount you have to meet before you prosecute,” Santiago said.
Each store’s security plan varies, but at the end of the day shoplifters will do whatever it takes to get what they want.
“We find sensors with bite marks on them,” Santiago said. “If they want it bad enough, they are going to find a way around it.”
There are a variety of types of shoplifters — from juveniles to professionals — who spend weeks hitting malls across the state. They travel for hours to different malls along I-95 to get as many items as they can from different stores.
“We also get the real professionals that are looking for just one thing to steal, and most of the time that’s an item from the high-end stores like Gucci, Chanel or Michael Kors,” Frechette said.
If a store is releasing items from a new collection, professional shoplifters steal them and send them the same day to China to be crafted into a perfect knockoff.
“They have places in China and over in that area that can make these knockoffs in a matter of a day,” Frechette said. “They know it’s coming and they’re ready to go. That’s how knockoffs are successful.”
Aside from stores not prosecuting, another factor is the liability companies have if a customer harms an employee. Employees, even if they clearly see a shoplifter, are not allowed to outright accuse the shoplifter, due to most company policies.
“We can’t pursue those [people] because of risk of bodily harm,” Santiago said.
Lori Judson, manager at Victoria’s Secret in the Gardens Mall, said she follows a similar protocol and uses good customer service to detour shoplifters.
“We make it known that we saw them,” Judson said. “We don’t have to outright say it, but just act overly friendly.”
Tranique Williams, key holder for Charlotte Russe at the Wellington Green, said that if sales associates think they see someone shoplifting, they approach the person and make a suggestion of matching apparel to go with the product that they were trying to steal.
Bridgett Migill, an associate at Victoria’s Secret at Wellington Green, said that if she encounters a shoplifter she is to immediately call mall security.
“It usually takes them around five minutes to get here,” she said.
The strangest thing Migill has seen when it comes to shoplifting is men dressing up as women. A common shoplifter will take one or two pairs of panties from the front and walk out the door, but by the end of the day they usually recover about 85 percent of the stolen merchandise, said Migill.
Judson tells her staff to watch shopper’s behavior closely.
“People act differently when shoplifting compared to shopping,” Judson said.
Sometimes shoppers will use bags from stores not even in the mall or will watch the employees more than looking at the clothing. Others will be rude to distract employees or divert attention elsewhere.
“We have a lot of tools from corporate, but a lot of it comes from personal experience,” Santiago said. She said she keeps a keen eye on customers who want to make returns.
“You cannot make a return without a receipt,” Santiago said.
According to the National Retail Federation, $9.59 billion of fraudulent returns were made in 2009.
“Shoplifters are always going to be one step ahead,” Frechette said. “The best way to catch them is a good sales associate keeping their eye on the ball.”
Shoplifters take an item from a store and immediately try to return it at a different store to get cash. Frechette said that one of the problems is some stores do not require receipts anymore to return clothes, instead offering a store credit.
Though the shoplifting figures vary from month to month, security has been reinforced at the Gardens Mall.
Mall security guards are limited in what they’re allowed to do when a shoplifter is spotted. If a store wants to prosecute a shoplifter, the police must be called. If not, what happens to that shoplifter?
“Malls across the board need to empower their security to do it, instead of waiting for the police to come,” Santiago said. “By the time they come, who knows what could happen.”
Though not too many incidents are reported, Santiago made reference to an assault which occurred on Saturday, March 13, where a customer attacked the manager of Arden B. at the Gardens Mall after being identified as a potential shoplifter.
The report from the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department said the customer pushed the manager against the wall, pulling her hair. Officer William Stiggle reported he found red markings on the manager’s upper right arm, and he found her crying and shaking. This is one of the few cases where managers want to prosecute shoplifters.
Frechette said by statute and liability for their corporation, they’re responsible for the common areas of the mall. However, security guards can help an associate if he or she is in trouble.
With 44 security officers walking and watching the stores inside the mall, and driving around the parking lots and more than 60 cameras placed at strategic points throughout the mall, the Gardens Mall has reduced its shoplifting statistics in the past 18 months.
“Security cameras have full 360 degrees view and can pan, tilt, and zoom,” Frechette said. “We have really good cameras and can look at somebody’s face.”
The Gardens Mall also has several security guards driving around the parking lots looking for potential crime victims.
Security officer Harold Beasley said sometimes people leave their cars with the windows down, exposing valuable items like GPS devices or cell phones. In those cases officers stay by the cars and wait for the owner to come back to their vehicle in order to prevent a theft.
“We try to educate the patrons on things they can do themselves to help and assist and neutralize the criminal activity,” Beasley said.
Officer Allen Montes, who has worked at the Gardens Mall for almost four years, said the strangest thing about shoplifters is their creativity when trying to hide the items they want to steal.
“Just when you think you’ve seen it all they find a new way to do it,” Montes said.
“Knowing the managers is very important,” Montes said. “I try to keep in contact with the maintenance people and housekeeping people so in case an issue arises, we all know what is going on.”
Bully Johnson, 34,
used to shoplift because of the thrill of seeing what he could get away with stealing. He got caught shoplifting at Sears in the Gardens Mall, but didn’t get prosecuted.
“The reason I stopped was because I realized that I was soon going to be an adult and the consequences would be much worse,” Johnson said. “I was a stupid kid.”
In comparison to the Gardens Mall, the Mall at the Wellington Green has a higher shoplifting arrest rate. That’s not to say there’s more shoplifting at Wellington Green, but rather more have been reported to police.
According to a February report from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, in January there were 44 arrests made for retail theft in the Wellington area.
In November, 19 arrests were made for shoplifting; in December there were 31; and in January there were 29 at the Mall at Wellington Green.
For now, it seems shoplifters have the right of way and innocent consumers are footing the bill.
See Giselle Sosa and I report at this year’s Miami Fashion Week!
Here’s my quick Video Flip of some of this year’s performers and fashions from Ecuadorian designer, Milu Espinoza:
Silk, shimmer, and sky-high stilettos dominated the runway during this year’s 12th annual Miami International Fashion Week. About 700 people combined of press, buyers, and audience came out to support designers from all over the world each night in Miami’s Art District during March 18th through the 21st.
On Friday March 19, the audience piled in so tightly that many guests were standing against the back walls just to catch a glimpse of the women’s swimwear by designer Antonia Saenz from Columbia.
“What’s better than beautiful women with clothes that fit so well,” model Wayne Patrick said.
As the models strutted down the runway in bright, colorful pastel bathing suits to the French song “Baby, Baby, Baby” by Make the Girls Dance, the audience cheered.
Metallic fabrics, sequins, and high heels with lots of straps seem to be a reoccurring theme with many of the designers, such as Franco Montoro. Montoro chose to use high slits, several straps and cutouts. Also many dresses were made of a light, sultry silk with bold black lines. Thick bracelets and accent clutches accompanied the outfits.
Women weren’t the only stars of the show as men’s clothing designer Arcadio Diaz from the Dominican Republic stole the show when one of his models walked out on the runway with a baby as an accessory. His clothes were light, airy and consisted of a variety of blue, pink, and yellow pastels.
Designer Nicolas Felizola won the 2010 Miami International Fashion Week Men’s Style Award with his fitted silk suits and sexy, soft scarves.
Aside from fashion, the event also had a variety of performers including dancers and singers. Surrounding the main event, tables were set up showcasing vibrant jewelry from Latin-inspired designers. The jewelry had unique designs and stones.
“I like the show and I think it’s getting better and better every year,” Patrick said.
Many local celebrities came out to show support such as Bravo “Miami Social” cast member, Ariel Stein and one of the original Versace models and actor in AMC’s “Mad Men” Vincent de Paul.
Miami Fashion Week was created by former model Beth Sobol who said according to NBC Miami, “New York Fashion Week is only three years older than us.”
A preview for this weekend’s Super Car Experience (set to take place on Flagler Drive in Palm Beach) was seen at the Palm Beach International Raceway in Jupiter. Check out me interviewing professional race car driver, Guy Cosmo and founder of the event, John Temerian.
According to event planners, Saturday’s event will showcase around 400 cars and it’s “almost at full capacity”. They also mentioned super car owners are still trying to register, but Friday, February 26 is the last day they can do so.
Not only will they showcase super cars on Flagler, but they will also feature a Mercedes AMS-inspired cigarrette boat on the waterfront.
Tickets are $24.00 per person and kids 12 and under are FREE. Event will take place from 11:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.
251 Palm Beach will host an after party:
The 1515 condo located on Flagler Drive was demolished at 9:05 a.m. this morning thanks to a large amount of explosives carefully placed within the building’s skeletal infrastructure. Hundreds of local palm beachers watched nearby from downtown buildings such as South Tower, One City, and Palm Beach Atlantic University. The intracoastal was dotted with yachts, which immediately scattered after the explosion due to all the dust. Entire story and videos can be found here.
Currently working towards his masters in business at Palm Beach Atlantic University, Edwens Prophete (also a good friend of mine), describes the desperation in his family’s hometown of Port ‘au Prince. Haiti. For my entire story, click here:
The building at 1515 South Flagler Drive will be imploded on Valentines Day from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Yes. Valentines Day. Too bad single people can’t partake in the explosion process because I can only imagine the amount of repressed anger that could relieve. Regardless, I will be present to take pictures! Ok, back to the real news here.
The noise resulting from the explosives will be in the range of 100 to 125 decibels (the sound of a rock concert) for about 8 seconds around 9 a.m. Residents of the surrounding area (Norton Park Place, Viking Arms, Rapallo North) are required to vacate their homes by 6 a.m. Security sweeps will be conducted to verify residents have evacuated.
Doug Wise, an employee of the construction services department of the City of West Palm Beach said that a licensed window repair company will be standing by in case the implosion causes broken windows in nearby apartments.
Local residents are expected to feel a slight shock, but nothing too serious.
The developer, Trinity LLC is providing a breakfast at the Palm Beach Atlantic University campus at 6 a.m.