It is stealing, and accounts for up to 40% of reported shop losses each year.  Shoplifters come from all walks of life and from all socio-economic backgrounds, but generally they fall into one of two groups, amateurs and professionals.

Amateur shoplifters usually steal on impulse.  Juveniles (aged 10 to 18 years, usually teenagers) who steal to impress friends form a big part of this group.

Professional shoplifters are more likely to work in pairs or groups, although they will work alone.  They often steal to obtain a false refund for the items and have often ‘cased out’ a store before stealing. Some are highly skilled thieves.  

  • You can prevent shoplifting by taking some simple steps in the following areas:
  • Store layout and design
  • Staff education and training
  • Business policy and procedure
Store layout and design
  • Make the layout of your store as open as possible, with good visibility between aisles or areas.
  • Keep shelves tidy and goods neatly stacked.
  • Consider using surveillance mirrors so that staff can monitor awkward or hidden areas.
  • Consider CCTV and have it connected to a VCR.
  • If appropriate, consider having in store security staff.
  • Where possible, lock expensive and easily portable goods in cabinets.
  • Stack goods tightly on your shelves, so that removal takes longer.
  • Limit the entry and exit points to your store.
  • Clearly display signs that state that police will be called if anyone is caught stealing regardless of the excuse.
  • Clearly display signs explaining your bag checking policy.
  • Limit access to keys for locked cabinets.
  • Staff education and training

Ensure your staff members understand:

  • That the value of the goods stolen can never outweigh the value of the health and well being of the staff.
  • The store policy on both bag checks and stealing.
  • What you, or store management, expect of them under these policies.
  • The procedures you want them to follow if they suspect someone has stolen property.

Encourage staff to:

  • Greet customers as they enter the store.
  • Ask “Can I help you?”
  • Regularly tidy shelves
  • Pay attention to nervous or jumpy customers, people looking around in surveillance mirrors, groups and customers who try to distract staff.
Business policy and procedure

It may be your store’s policy to conduct bag inspections.  However, you do not have a legal right to search a person’s bag or property.  The person does not commit an offence by refusing to have their bag searched.  You can ask the person to leave your store and you can refuse the person future entry into your store.

Clearly display signs that explain your store’s policy, e.g. “All bags must be presented for inspection before leaving this store’.

As mentioned above, ensure that your staff members are clear about your store’s policies and procedures for dealing with suspected shoplifting incidents.

Dealing with shoplifters

A ‘Citizens Arrest’.

The Crimes Act says that you (or any person) may ‘arrest’ someone who is caught committing, or who has just committed an offence which is punishable under the law.

The law also says that if a number of people act together intending to achieve an illegal result, then every act done by one of them is done by all of them.

You may stop and detain a person who has committed an offence such as stealing:

  • At the time they commit the offence, or
  • Immediately after they commit an offence

You cannot arrest the person a few hours later or the next day.

If the situation causes danger to you, your staff or customers, do not try to detain the offender.  The value of the goods can never exceed the value of your life.

You have a duty of care to all people you detain for an offence.  You also have a duty of care if you decide to release a person from your store before police become involved.  Juveniles should only be released into the care of a parent, guardian or police.

If you decide to detain a shoplifter:
*Explain who you are (eg. The manager, store security officer, etc) and show identification.
*Tell the person why they are being detained.
*Use only reasonable force to detain the person (force that any reasonable person would use if faced with the same situation)
*Advise the person that the police will be called.
*Ask the person to surrender any property which does not rightfully belong to them
*You are not entitled to conduct searches of the person or their property.

Reporting incidents to police

Report all incidents to the police. The police cannot help you counter shoplifting problems if they don’t know you are experiencing them.

If a crime is in progress, or there is risk to life or well being, call 000, ask for police.  If it is not an emergency, report the incident to the Police Assistance Line phone 131444, local police will be dispatched to your business.

Provide accurate information to the police about the circumstances surrounding the offence.

You will need to give police as many of the following details as you can:
*Your name
*Your location and the nearest cross street
Your contact telephone number
*Type of incident (e.g. shoplifter)
*The full name and date of birth of the offender (if you have it)
*The offenders current behaviour

Police will determine whether there is sufficient evidence to support charges.

They may ask you to give a statement, which describes what you saw, heard, said, did or touched. (Complete a Statement of Store Employee, Incident Report Form)

The legal process

If police decide there is sufficient evidence, the person may be charged by police.  Once charged, the person is referred to as the defendant.

The defendant can plead Guilty to the offence or Not Guilty.  If s/he pleads Not Guilty, you may be required to give evidence at a hearing in the local Court.

If the defendant is a juvenile (aged between 10 and 18) the Young Offenders Act specifies how they can be dealt with.   Options open to police for dealing with juveniles are:

  • Warning
  • Caution
  • Youth Justice Conference
  • Court.