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An eye on shoplifting

Stores face ongoing struggle against thieves

  • An employee monitors the 16 surveillance cameras at Adam and Eve in Greenfield.  Recorder/Paul Franz
  • Surveillance camera at Adam and Eve in Greenfield.  Recorder/Paul Franz
  • Wall of shame at Adam and Eve in Greenfield of past shoplifters and what they stole.  Recorder/Paul Franz
  • Pricey meats are popular theft items. Recorder/Paul Franz
  • Sixteen surveillance cameras watch you at Adam and Eve in Greenfield.  Recorder/Paul Franz
  • Surveillance camera at Ryan and Casey Recorder/Paul Franz

GREENFIELD — If you steal even the smallest of items from a store, you could wind up paying fines, doing jail time or, in some cases, end up on a store’s wall of shame, left in full view of customers.

“If someone steals from me, I want them humiliated at every step of the process,” said Scott McGregor, franchise owner of the Greenfield Adam and Eve store on Main Street. “I will press charges even if someone steals a $3 pack of condoms.”

The wall next to the store’s door is covered in photos of shoplifters caught in the act by the shop’s security cameras. McGregor said he only posts them after the thieves are convicted. Attached to each photo is a detailed description of the items stolen. Sometimes, they’re dresses or lingerie, but the bulk of the pilfered products are sex toys, he said.

He said the “wall of shame” has been a helpful deterrent.

“When I first opened, shoplifting was much worse than it is now,” said McGregor. “I think the word is out around town that, of all the places to steal, you don’t want to be caught stealing from us.”

McGregor said he has 16 security cameras watching over his store, waiting to catch someone red-handed.

“The police have told me I have a better system than most banks,” he said.

Always a problem

Shoplifting is an ongoing problem for merchants large and small.

Since the beginning of the year, police in Greenfield, Montague and Orange have responded to more than 50 reports of shoplifting, according to The Recorder’s archived police logs. Those reports don’t include thefts that have gone unnoticed.

Stolen items range from milk and bread to beer and cigarettes, cat litter to condoms and sneakers to sex toys.

Victims range from chain stores like Wal-Mart, Big Y and Rite Aid Pharmacy to smaller businesses like liquor stores, mini-marts and small locally owned retailers.

Greenfield Police Chief Robert Haigh Jr. said shoplifters’ motives are almost as varied as the things they steal.

“Sometimes people don’t have money to eat, and will steal a quick candy bar,” Haigh said. “With other things, like radios, TVs, video games and electronics, they’re out for a quick buck.”

Haigh said the latter items are often easy to resell at pawnshops and secondhand stores, or straight to consumers. The chief said Greenfield police regularly check pawn shop records via an online database, to see if stolen property turns up.

Often, he said, shoplifters who sell their stolen goods do so to support drug habits.

On Aug. 6, a Deerfield man was arrested after walking out of Big Y with DVD and Blu-ray movies tucked into his pants, and police found heroin and related paraphernalia in his backpack, according to police reports.

Haigh said there’s also another category of shoplifters — those who do it just to steal, whether they’re certified kleptomaniacs or just out for the rush of breaking the law.

While many shoplifters might never think of stealing someone’s wallet, they’re still taking money out of people’s pockets.

“I think a lot of people see shoplifting as a victimless crime,” said Haigh. “It still hurts the business’s bottom dollar, and some person owns every store.”

Insurance costly

While some insurance policies cover shoplifting, many small businesses don’t carry the protection.

“Insurance doesn’t cover our (shoplifting) losses,” said Andy Emond, owner of the Greenfield Radio Shack. “We’re a franchise, so we eat the loss.’

“We lose what we paid for as well as any potential profit,” he continued.

Emond said his store fights shoplifting in several ways. Security cameras keep watch from above, some products are alarmed and others are kept under lock and key.

When something does go missing, he said, he’ll go over the store’s surveillance footage and try to find the culprit.

Most of the things stolen from his shop are smaller items, he said, although bigger things are also stolen from time to time.

When a video game console went missing in March, employees called police, who were able to identify the suspect, and a 32-year-old Turners Falls man was summoned to court for the theft.

While Emond said he handles thefts on a case-by-case basis, other shopkeepers have zero-tolerance policies.

Zero-tolerance

Some follow zero-tolerance policies like McGregor at Adam and Eve, though they don’t all have “walls of shame.”

Ryan and Casey Liquors owner Kristie Faufaw said she will press charges whether thieves try to make off with a nip of 99-cent bargain booze or a half-gallon of top-shelf scotch.

“No matter how small, I want every theft on record,” she said.

Faufaw said it’s about making an example of people and sending a message that the store is hard on thieves. She also won’t hesitate to ban someone from the store the first time they try to steal from her.

“My employees and I work hard to earn what we earn, and when people steal (merchandise), they’re stealing money from us,” said Faufaw.

Like Emond, Faufaw doesn’t carry shoplifting coverage.

Between monthly premiums and deductibles, Faufaw said it doesn’t seem worthwhile to carry shoplifting coverage.

“The more incidents of shoplifting you have, the more your rates are going to go up, just like someone with a lot of auto insurance claims,” she said.

Instead, she has several security cameras in her shop and trains her staff to be ever-vigilant. When someone’s caught in the act, she said, employees will detain the thief until police arrive.

She said she calls in extra staff for holiday weekends to catch shoplifters who may take advantage of busy hours.

Some larger stores have full-time employees there just to stop shoplifters.

“At our stores, we employ ‘asset protection associates,’” said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Betsy Harden.

The Wal-Mart store in Orange is a frequent target for shoplifters, judging by police and court logs.

Harden said that may be due to the company’s vigilance rather than a higher incidence of shoplifting than other stores have.

The asset prevention associates keep an eye out for suspicious activity, she said, and have no problem detaining shoplifters when they’re caught in the act.

Harden said all Wal-Mart stores use several security cameras to aid security personnel and assist police in identifying and then prosecuting thieves.

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