Bluefield Daily Telegraph
When you listen to the scanner, you sometimes pick up on a story that comes to you in bits and pieces. This happened about a week ago when I started repeatedly catching the word “shoplifter” on the airwaves. Either a store was reporting a shoplifter or store personnel had a shoplifter in custody. When I checked the figures, I found out that my hunch about more shoplifting was right. The West Virginia State Police near Princeton normally handle two shoplifting calls a month, but during the last four to six weeks, this figure had jumped to more than a dozen. Almost every law enforcement agency I checked was seeing more shoplifting on its blotters.
Most of the items being targeted by the light fingered fraternity were the sort of things I expected to be stolen. When I was told that computer games and DVDs — both relatively small and pricey — were being taken, that was no surprise. Then Sheriff Don Meadows told me that some shoplifters are targeting razor blades. A lot of the better brands sell for $12, $20 or more a pack, so that made some sense. The thieves then offer the stolen goods for a bargain price.
The more so-called professional, brazen shoplifter works to get security tags off more expensive items such as electronic goods, but I keep wondering why they bother. Go into any big store these days and look up, and you will see these plastic bubbles mounted among the rafters. Those are security cameras. A lot of stores have surveillance systems worthy of the totalitarian Big Brother regime in George Orwell’s classic novel “1984.”
The security cameras provide plenty of laughable footage for reality television shows. Don’t criminals watch television? Don’t they watch reality shows or crime shows? Police on every show almost immediately check for surveillance footage. Real police check surveillance records, too.
Another aspect of shoplifting that once puzzled me was the risk shoplifters take in order to steal goods that really aren’t worth that much. My idea of a profitable crime is outlined in movies such as “The Italian Job” and “Ocean’s Eleven.’ We’re talking about millions of dollars here. It always made me think about some especially good advice my Dad once gave me.
“Greg, if you have to go to jail, let it be over something big,” he said. “I don’t want to hear about you stealing $500 or anything like that. It’s got to be at least a million dollars — and you come and share it with me.” That always made me stop and wonder if some larcenous or simply dishonest act is really worth the risk.
One local officer, Tazewell County Sheriff Brian Hieatt, told me that in some cases the shoplifters simply lack a work ethic. In their minds it’s easier to steal something or con somebody than actually work. I’m sure there are plenty of folks with the mindset. Others are driven by poor economic times or drug addictions; the latter are often desperate for a daily source of cash.
More than one officer has told me as the years go by that crime comes in cycles. For a while, you will see a series of burglaries. Then the criminals switch to breaking into cars or stealing lawnmowers and weed eaters from garages or storage buildings. Now we appear to be in a cycle of shoplifting.
Maybe this cycle will exhaust itself before the holiday season and criminals will switch to some other dishonest mode of operation such as new targets of opportunity or a new type of scam. One criminal commits a crime and seems to get away with it, then others decide to try the same thing.
Police will continue to deter people thinking about committing crimes and take care of the ones who unwisely commit them; meanwhile, we can take precautions of our own such as not leaving anything that even looks valuable in our cars and tell store employees when we see something suspicious going on. Lock your home’s and car’s doors even if you are stepping away for only a moment. Years ago, a friend of mine stepped away from her apartment for a moment to check on a neighbor. When she came back, she found her purse’s contents scattered all over the floor. Somebody had stepped inside and emptied it out.
We will likely hear about more instances of shoplifting, but there will come a time when local criminals are ready to move on and try something else. The best we can do is be careful not to offer opportunities to become a victim.
Greg Jordan is senior reporter at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.