The Cop Column
November, 2003
Sgt. Rick Hord

Great Partners: Law Enforcement and Retail

"Is there really such a thing as a citizen's arrest?"

Yes, almost every day. Often, the citizen making the arrest is a retail merchant. Florida Law gives retailers and their employees the authority to detain suspected thieves.

Florida's definition of "retail theft" (or shoplifting) is interesting. You need not take anything to be a thief. "Altering or removing a label, universal product code, or price tag; transferring merchandise from one container to another; or removing a shopping cart, with intent to deprive the merchant of possession, use, benefit, or full retail value" counts as retail theft under the law.

Most people are aware fines, community service, and other penalties increase with repeated convictions. Here's something you may not be aware of: If more than one person is involved in the same shoplifting scheme, of if the same individual commits retail theft at different locations within a 48 hour period, the total value of stolen merchandise may be added together for purposes of prosecution. That's significant because if that total value reaches $300, the crime is a Felony.

Why is shoplifting such a big deal? Because every one of us is a victim.

"Shrinkage" is the industry euphemism for product that vanishes before generating revenue for the merchant. Some shoplifters embrace an attitude that one more item in the shrinkage column will hardly be noticed by a large retailer. Wrong. Experts estimate those losses add an average of seven percent to the prices we all pay at the checkout counter.

In other words, shoplifting costs us all about as much as does the sales tax.

The Holiday Season each year brings crowds to the stores... and with the increase in sales comes an increase in theft. Last year, merchants reported 49 retail thefts to the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office during July... a very busy month. In December, a much slower month, the shoplifting total was almost the same, at 44. During the summer... and there is a lot of shoplifting in the summertime... 3.8-percent of our reports were for retail theft. In December, more than five percent of the reports taken by Deputies involved shoplifting.

The Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office works very closely with the local retail community to catch and prosecute shoplifters... and to discourage them from striking in the first place. We offer training, free of charge, to merchants who wish to learn more about Florida's retail theft laws. We help merchants teach their employees how to detect shoplifters, and what to do once they have spotted one.

Each year, the Florida retail Federation honors a Law Enforcement Officer of the Year. For the second consecutive year, an Okaloosa County Deputy Sheriff is one of the finalists. In 2002, Investigator (now Inspector) Brian Shonk was one of the five finalists; this year, Deputy Lenny Holloway is being similarly honored. With hundreds of candidates under consideration, we've obviously got the right to be very proud of our efforts at the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office.