The Shoplifters on Your Beat

Only 5% of shoplifting crimes are related to financial need; meaning the individual legitimately needs something that they can’t afford. So what are motives behind the other 95% of the cases that tie up law enforcement’s, the court’s, and...


Only 5% of shoplifting crimes are related to financial need; meaning the individual legitimately needs something that they can’t afford.  So what are motives behind the other 95% of the cases that tie up law enforcement’s, the court’s, and retailer’s time, resources, and money?  Are they all kleptomaniacs?  No, not even close.

This the 2nd shoplifting dispatch call on your beat today; at least this retailer has surveillance equipment. You wonder who you pissed off to get the mall beat this round.  Sometimes the suspect is cooperative, sometimes not. Over a certain dollar amount it is grand theft--under that amount, petty theft. If the suspect went into the store with the intent to steal, he/she could be charged with burglary. This definitely means paper, quite possibly a trip to jail or a detention center, and that someone else will have to take other, probably more pressing calls on your beat.

The suspect detained is a 28 year old Caucasian female, attractive, well dressed and groomed, and has more money in her wallet than you see in a pay period. She is crying, and is extremely remorseful. You view the tape, and see her putting a package of ballpoint pens in her purse. She makes purchases totaling $46.33 for various other items, but does not pay for the pens. You run her; she has priors for petty theft. The store manager desires prosecution. You ask yourself, "Why in the world didn't she just pay for the pens?" It would have certainly made both your and her day easier.

Ten Fun Shoplifting Facts for Law Officers to Know and Share

  1. Shoplifting is also the nation's most expensive crime costing U.S. businesses more than $30 billion a year.
  2. There are an estimated 27 million shoplifters (or 1 in 11 people) in our nation today.
  3. More than 10 million people have been caught shoplifting in the last five years.
  4. Shoplifters’ report that they are caught an average of only once every 49 thefts. They are turned over to law enforcement about half the time. 
  5. Many shoplifters buy and steal merchandise in the same visit.
  6. Habitual shoplifters steal an average of 1.6 times per week.
  7. Shoplifting is usually not a premeditated crime; 73% of shoplifters don't plan their thefts.
  8. 55% of adult shoplifters state that they started stealing as teenagers.
  9. Over half of adults and one-third of adolescents report difficulty stopping shoplifting crimes, even after getting caught.
  10. Most shoplifters who have developed a habit or addiction believe they should be punished according to the law when caught.

Types of Shoplifters and Their Motives

There is no profile for a shoplifter; it could be anyone. There are basically two types of shoplifters: the non-professional (97%) and the professional (3%).  According to The Shulman Center for Compulsive Theft, there are seven recognized types of shoplifters which are defined by their motives:

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