The festive season will soon be upon us and Christmas related stock is already showing up in various stores. Soon enough the major chains will be interviewed by newspapers and television and will, once again, let society know the high cost of retail outlet shoplifting to the community.
Such ‘retail shrinkage’ is caused by both customers and staff. According to a mate in the police force “shoplifting goes through the roof” during the festive season even with plain clothes police operations undertaken in conjunction with retail loss prevention officers planned for this season.
Handling shoplifters ―do you touch them at all?
Are your staff members trained to deal with shoplifters? Do they know their legal obligations and the rights of an alleged shoplifter or is it all too scary? Also, are you putting your staff at an unacceptable risk by expecting them to go beyond safe boundaries of conduct in such situations?
I remember the first time I arrested someone. The adrenaline, the reasonable force used, the event being over and the heart rate still pumping for the next 10 minutes. I also remember the number of times I had to provide statements, confirm my actions on multiple occasions and get ready for court. Eventually the individual pleaded guilty and so my involvement was no longer required.
Each Australian state and territory has differing laws relating to stealing, shoplifting, rights of making a citizen’s arrest and processing of the accused. So, my first recommendation is that you speak with your local constabulary and ask them not just what you should do, but also what your rights are. Further, and as part of your risk management, you should train staff on how to handle shoplifters and whether they should make a citizen’s arrest at all.
What is a citizen’s arrest?
The exact definition of a citizen’s arrest depends upon the state or territory in which you find yourself.
Generally, a person is legally permitted to arrest someone under certain circumstances. These include where a person is in the act of committing an offence, or where a person has just committed an offence.
Once a person has performed a citizen’s arrest they are required to take the arrested person, along with any property found on them, to an ‘authorised officer’ i.e. police officer, as soon as possible.
What are some of the factors to be considered?
Confrontation of the alleged shoplifter should be done carefully. An individual under the influence of drugs can react to confrontation negatively and at times violently. Only do this if you feel confident in the situation.
Use of reasonable force to restrain an alleged shoplifter is probably the most difficult to deal with if it occurs. Generally, it is possible to detain a shoplifter using ‘reasonable force’ until the police arrive. Reasonable force is best described as the degree of force which is not excessive but is fair, proper and reasonably necessary in the particular circumstances.
Evidence of shoplifting is paramount. You cannot restrain or detain someone if you only have a suspicion. You have to have seen the individual take the property and you should not leave the situation once you have confronted the individual. Giving them an opportunity to dispose of the stolen goods could result in there being no evidence of the crime. Additionally, false imprisonment of an individual could result in assault charges and civil lawsuits being laid against you and/or the alleged shoplifter suing you.
It may be preferable in a confrontation to simply request the goods be handed over. If they don’t ultimately get charged by the police at least you have your property returned. Further, if you have lost sight of an alleged shoplifter and they have left the premises; your rights to confront the individual start to diminish incrementally.
Have a safe Christmas
The best approach is to call the police and if at all possible hand the situation over to them. Prepare what evidence you have, such as CCTV security footage and witness statements and have it ready to then provide to the police.
As to internal procedures, use common sense, remain level headed, and have a pre-determined plan in place that your staff understand and that keeps them safe. Remember, you have a duty of care to provide a safe workplace for your employees.
As the season is upon us, spend a bit of time considering this issue and how you and your employees are expected to behave in such situations. If you have any questions on the issue contact us at Workforce Guardian for easy to understand solutions.
Charles Watson is a senior adviser at Workforce Guardian. charles.watson@Workforceguardian.com.au