CCTV in the Retail Environment

Shoplifters take great pains to be invisible to staff, but CCTV is a great way to keep an electronic eye on potential thieves.


Editor's note: Liz MartĂ­nez' Retail Security column will run quarterly throughout 2004. This first article is excerpted from Chapter 4 of Ms. MartĂ­nez' recent book, (2004, Looseleaf Law Publications).

Each year, retailers lose almost two percent of their profits to shrinkage. Most of it walks out the door via the five-finger discount. The first line of defense against shoplifters is floor employees—the eyes and ears of the store. Because shoplifters come in all shapes, sizes, races, genders and ages, floor staff are in a position to spot someone who doesn't fit in with the store or the area, or whose body language signals an intent to steal. (More information about the employee's role in retail crime prevention can be found in the abovementioned book.)

An effective way to combat shrink—and make sales—is to ensure that the staff provides excellent customer service. Shoplifters don't like attention. If they get it, they're likely to leave for a more fertile stealing ground. But salespeople can't see everything at once. An effective tool in the retailer's crime-prevention arsenal is the use of electronic surveillance equipment, especially closed-circuit television.

Electronic Eyes and Ears
CCTV systems are good tools both for deterring thefts and for assisting in the apprehension and prosecution processes. They serve to deter shoplifters, who cannot remain anonymous if a CCTV camera captures an image of them as they are committing a theft. For the same reason, stores with visible CCTV systems are less likely to be targeted by burglars.

Camera Options
Cameras can be mounted on the walls and ceilings and can be visible or hidden within a dark-colored dome. They can be set to run continuously, recording the goings-on of the store and displaying the images in real-time on monitors in the security office of a large store, or simply recording them in time-lapse fashion.

More sophisticated cameras can pan, tilt and zoom in on particular areas that a security officer or staffer wants to see in more detail at any given time, such as a furtive customer or a suspected dishonest employee. The images recorded by one camera at a time, or by several cameras simultaneously, can be projected onto one monitor screen or onto a number of monitors, depending on the size of the store. In a smaller store, theft deterrence through the use of CCTV can be achieved by displaying the images on a monitor that is visible to employees and customers alike.

Common sense must be employed when it comes to keeping the cameras clear. Nothing should be mounted on the ceiling or high enough on the walls to interfere with the field of view—regardless of how perfect the designer might insist a decoration looks right in front of the camera. Once the camera is blocked, it is effectively rendered useless, and store security is compromised.

Special Situations
In an establishment in which discretion is important, such as an upscale boutique, or when an investigation is underway, covert camera systems can be employed. Also known as "nanny-cams" for their popularity among parents who want to clandestinely monitor their children's caretakers in their homes, these small cameras can be placed virtually anywhere. About the size of a credit card, the miniature devices, which are hidden inside dolls, clocks or mannequins or in any number of other places, record and transmit images to a monitor.

CCTV cameras can also be hooked up to detection devices for after-hours surveillance. When a motion sensor is triggered, the system begins recording and simultaneously dials a programmed telephone number and transmits images over the telephone lines to a designated off-premises monitor. In this way, alarm companies or store owners can get a look at exactly what's happening inside the store. This type of system can also be linked to EAS systems to record any movement in the area of a triggered EAS device.

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