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Home > Services > Corp. Loss Prevention  > Shoplifting > Where Is The Justice?

Shoplifting: Where Is The Justice?

Shoplifting: Where Is The Justice?; Criminal Statutes, Punish the Offender, Theft, Criminal Conversion, Prosecuting Attorney, Trial, Plea Agreement, Prove Intent

Most people are unaware that there are no criminal statutes known as 'shoplifting' or 'stealing'; they are simply terms used to describe the act. If this is the case, then how do we get justice and punish the offender?

In criminal court, for the Prosecuting Attorney's Office to prove that a theft or criminal conversion has taken place, certain specific elements of the crime must be established beyond a reasonable doubt during trial.

The defendant is commonly represented by counsel, either public or self-retained, and a plea agreement is reached with the Prosecuting Attorney's Office prior to trial. If the defendant has prior criminal convictions, or the alleged crime was egregious in any way, the terms of the plea agreement should reflect that fact.

How to Succeed in Prosecuting Shoplifting

If the case does reach court, a common defense is challenging the prosecution's efforts to prove 'intent'. It is typically necessary that the item has been removed past the last point of purchase (normally the P.O.S. terminal or cash register) before the critical element, 'intent', is established. 'Intent' has been defined by Webster as the "state of mind in which one commits an illegal act, and the character which the law imputes to such act."

There are many variables to conducting the successful apprehension of a suspected shoplifter. All management and employees should receive recurrent "awareness" training on approved standards and techniques for deterring shoplifting and also be thoroughly trained how to conduct a 'good stop' or successful shoplifting apprehension. Competent and consistent execution, accurate and thorough documentation and prompt, appropriate communication are all required from store personnel for a case to eventually be successful in criminal court.

In many cases it is not enough that an employee witnessed an individual conceal the item on his person in the middle of the store. If the suspected thief is stopped before he or she passes the last point of purchase, the element of 'intent' may be difficult to establish. Technically speaking, theft hasn't actually occurred. The police may not respond in this instance and could simply take a report over the phone from someone representing the store.

This situation presents the potential for trouble with the suspect and can become complicated for the retail business. Measures you can take to help prevent this situation include:

  • Store personnel responding to a shoplifting incident should be trained to comply with company policy and still remain prepared for any response from the suspect.  The most critical period occurs when the suspect is initially confronted and when attempting to escort the suspect to the designated interview area.

  • Store employee's actions in responding to the issue should be consistent, restrained and based on substantiated information. The facts surrounding how the item in question was recovered and what was said by the suspect, as well as store management and employees during the apprehension are important. Any verbal admission from the suspect is valuable and should be documented.

  • A written admission statement would be optimal, provided the document acknowledges the suspect's guilt and includes sufficient detail, store name, item stolen, time, date, etc. Any documentation or written admission statements obtained should be secured and copies should be provided to law enforcement as required.

Shoplifting: Staying on the Right Side of the Law

If the suspect is injured during apprehension, if the court case is unsuccessful, or if the suspect's rights were violated, the business could find itself in a defendant's role against charges of false arrest, assault, battery, defamation of character or any number of contentions by the 'victim' of your well-intentioned staff.

In fact, there are individuals who have made a career out of intentionally acting suspiciously like shoplifters in the hope they will be stopped improperly so they can bring suit against the business that made the apprehension.

Unfortunately, most businesses enter into a settlement with these con-artists to avoid negative publicity and/or long, drawn out court cases which are expensive whether the business wins or loses.

The best way to prevent these situations from occurring is to:

  • Have a sound policy
  • Train your staff recurrently
  • Execute properly
  • Document thoroughly
  • Cooperate with law enforcement and the prosecutor's office when requested


Shoplifting will never be completely eliminated, but it can be deterred and decreased with appropriate effort and professional loss prevention know-how. For information about bringing this know-how to your company, call 317-363-8312, send email to or submit the short form below:

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