Shoplifters - Paying Civil Demand

Feb. 25, 2008


In a recent Wall Street Journal article titled, "Pay Up - Big Retail Chains Dun Mere Suspects in Theft", Ann Zimmerman wrote about retailers and collection firms billing shoplifters for Civil Recovery fees. Read WSJ article.

Dating back about twenty-five years Nevada became the first state to pass legislation where retailers could "demand" a civil payment from shoplifters for merchandise stolen from their stores. The intent of the law was to help retailers recoup theft losses and pay for security personnel and equipment. Currently all 50 states have such laws and the demand amounts vary from state to state, as well as the methods used to collect.

The system was working well, but has now escalated to a point where retailers are using collection companies and attorneys specifically set up to collect the civil penalties. I agree with Ms. Zimmerman that there have been some abuses of the practice, as she points out in her article, but overall the retail industry has benefited from the civil recovery process. The rest of the article appears to be very slanted.

In my own case, as a former Director of Loss Prevention Services for a major retailer, I never used an outside collection agency. The money was used to help pay for security staff and equipment, and from the letters I've received from people, the entire process had taught them a valuable lesson. In fact, a study I conducted from a sample of 3,000 shoplifters found not one person, who paid a Civil Recovery, was re-apprehended for shoplifting. I believe the Civil Demand process is helping to accomplish was the courts are failing to do - punish the shoplifter. The court system is fast turning a criminal offense into a civil matter by giving first time and repeat shoplifters a slap on the wrist. I guess being a thief does not carry the stigma that it once used to.

--Curtis Baillie, Principal Consultant - Security Consulting Strategies LLC