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Security Cameras Help Prevent Shoplifting
Cameras were watching when a man walked into the Villas Country Liquor Store, grabbed a top-shelf bottle of Maker's Mark bourbon and shoved it down his pants.
Two days later, when he came back to the small liquor store in Lower Township, the staff caught him in the act.
Shoplifting at this 3,000-square-foot store reflects an increase in such incidents statewide, the latest statistics available from the State Police crime index show.
"I had more stolen this year than in the past 10 years," said Bill O'Quin, who has owned the liquor store for 11 years.
Shoplifting costs businesses about $12.1 billion nationally, said the National Retail Federation, which releases an annual survey. The industry term "shrinkage" combines shoplifting with employee theft, vendor fraud and administrator error.
Overall, this costs retailers $37.1 billion, or almost 1.6 percent of retail sales in 2010, up from about 1.4 percent in 2009, said the National Security Retail Survey, which released preliminary results in June.
There can be many reasons for the uptick, local retailers, authorities and trade associations said. O'Quin said the down economy may be part of it.
The cost of shoplifting has led some businesses to be more vigilant, employing more technology and using it more often.
"Because profit margins are slim, you have to sell a lot of legitimate goods to make up for the loss," said Sal Risalvato, executive director of the New Jersey Gasoline, C-Store, Automotive Association, an advocacy and public awareness organization. "We encourage our members now - I don't care if you have to put cameras everywhere - but monitor everything."
There were 11,710 reported New Jersey shoplifting offenses from January to June of 2010, a 4 percent increase from the same time period of 2009, State Police data show. Shoplifting was second only to theft from vehicles in total number of larcenies. In 2009, there were 23,175 reported shoplifting cases that cost $6.1 million, said the State Police Uniform Crime Report in 2009, the last full year available.
The State Police crime report shows police have little control over shoplifting - store security is under control of the individual store, where policies can range from arrest and prosecution to warnings.
"We prosecute to the hilt," said Bill Feraco, owner and manager of Joe Canal's Discount Liquor Outlet in the Rio Grande section of Middle Township.
"With the advent of the technology that's out there now, I can catch them a lot easier," he said. "I have this store flooded with cameras."
Liquor stores in particular face the issue of shoplifters stuffing bottles in their clothing. And not just small bottles. Two years ago, O'Quin caught a man with a magnum-sized bottle of Crown Royal in his pants.
"We have a video of a lady who stole two cases of white zinfandel from us over a 2½-month period," Feraco said.
After being caught, she tried to steal a bottle on the way out, he said.
There are no common characteristics of a shoplifter, said Barbara Staib, director of communications for the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention based in Jericho, N.Y.
"The common thread is they want something for nothing, but you cannot profile a shoplifter. They can be anyone," Staib said.
Area businesses use a variety of techniques to stem losses from shoplifting - from surveillance cameras, to undercover shoppers, to "walls of theft" in which local stores publicly post pictures of those caught.
There are more advanced technologies, including security tags that can track the merchandise in and out of the store, as well as smart cameras that can recognize unusual behavior and movements and use that to follow an individual through a store, Staib said.
Large retail stores are often targeted.
In September 2010, three Cumberland County women were charged with shoplifting more than $5,000 worth of merchandise from nine retailers in Cumberland and Atlantic counties, including Walmart, Old Navy and Kohl's.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Kmart would not discuss how much shoplifting affects business or how they address it, spokeswomen for both companies said.
"We're constantly evaluating our security measures and trying to deter crime in our stores and parking lots," said Dianna Gee, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman.
A Kmart in Pleasantville has a uniformed security guard stationed near the door.
One of the growing concerns in shoplifting is the use of eBay and the Internet by children to sell stolen merchandise, said Staib, whose association is rolling out a "Say no to shoplifting" campaign this year for awareness and outreach to children.
"We've seen a trend where kids are shoplifting more and they're very tech savvy," she said.
Inside the stores, surveillance cameras are being relied on more and more, Risalvato said. And digital cameras are offering more detailed images, an age-old problem with security footage.
Risalvato recounted years ago when his business was short about $20 each day, but he didn't know why. Finally, he had a clock with a hidden camera installed in his office.
The next weekend, footage showed someone entering his office at 2 a.m., using a key, disabling the alarm, taking $20, resetting the alarm and locking the door.
But the perpetrator's face was too blurry.
Risalvato finally caught the man, a former employee, after hiding behind a counter when the man snuck in one night.
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