Solving the Challenges Facing Loss Prevention Operations

May 9, 2006
Part 1: A bleak look at issues of buy-in, corporate responsibility and LP goal models

In this two-part series, we look at workplace issues that loss prevention professionals face and how to solve them.

All aspects of security have their own unique challenges, but loss prevention seems to have more than its share. Many people who have worked in loss prevention leave for what they believe to be greener pastures and refuse to look back.

Some of the difficulties stem from industry-wide problems, while others are the result of corporate policies. The nature of retail work itself creates a host of other obstacles. If the industry wants to attract -- and keep -- good people, these issues must be addressed.

LP shares with other aspects of security the frustration of being an outsider in many companies. Although everyone predicted a greater acceptance of security at the executive level in the post-9/11 world, expectations have fallen short. Many companies rushed to put new security policies into place, then promptly fell back into complacency. The result is that security is still treated like the redheaded stepchild in many industries.

In retail, security is more often than not treated as a necessary evil, not as an essential profit center. As a result, LP must constantly prove its worth to a corporate structure that refuses to see it. Good security professionals are required to maintain steadily increasing "numbers." LP managers who allow statistics for investigations, prosecutions or civil recovery to drop -- or even to remain level -- are reprimanded or fired.

Corporations seem to view these numbers as proof that they are getting their money's worth from security employees. This model of increasing productivity matches the one used on the sales side. If loss prevention succeeds with an investigation and cracks a particularly large case, they must justify their existence by making still bigger busts, which is sometimes not possible. The pressure of having to constantly outperform oneself causes many LP professionals to leave for less demanding career opportunities.

Part of the difficulty is caused by the fact that security still does not occupy a place in the executive suite in many corporations. The head of security many hold a director's position, but not a vice presidential one. That automatically excludes security from corporate strategy unless specifically invited. And how often does upper management think to invite security? Usually, not unless a particular security issue is up for discussion.

The problem with this business model, of course, is that leaving security out of planning or strategy sessions is like erecting a building and then realizing that the builder forgot to include the electrical wiring.

Chain stores also often shackle LP employees by refusing to allow them to perform various functions. Many stores do not want security officers to apprehend shoplifters within the store, forcing any stops to take place outside the confines of the store's boundaries. This creates additional problems for the guard, who must perform his duties to the store outside, on public property, on someone else's private property, in the street, or in a parking lot.

The corporation's desire not to be sued for a false apprehension is certainly understandable, but it can be respected in other ways.

Alternatively, some chain stores prefer that no shoplifting apprehensions be made. Shoplifters are given the run of the store while LP is directed to focus on the "real" problem in retail: internal theft.

While it is true that internal theft accounts for the greatest retail losses, it seems a bit foolish to tacitly encourage shoplifting by failing to do anything to prevent it.

LP managers who are desperate to make their numbers can always find a store employee to question about internal theft. They are often required to gain civil recovery for the amount the employee has taken.

While these actions are certainly important to a store's bottom line, corporations often expect the LP department to focus solely on this aspect of internal theft. They are given no budget or time to perform training or do other aspects of crime prevention. And when security does manage to work in a program aimed at prevention, they are punished for having their numbers drop, as though apprehension were the sole measure of security effectiveness.

The pressures of having to meet steadily increasing numbers mean that those in the LP department must work increasingly long hours. Burnout inevitably occurs. The end result is that many good LP professionals leave the field for less demanding positions.

So, that’s the situation we face in many LP operations today. As bleak as it may sound, there are companies who have overcome these problems, and whose solutions can be models to your own LP department. In the next column, scheduled for publication on June 13 on’s Retail/Loss Prevention Section, we will examine some solutions to the problems in LP.

What Challenges Are You Facing? Join into the discussion of challenges in LP operations in our Forums --> "Top Challenges in Loss Prevention" thread

About the author: Liz Martinez is the author of "The Retail Manager's Guide to Crime and Loss Prevention: Protecting Your Business from Theft, Fraud and Violence" (2004, Looseleaf Law), and is a retail security/loss prevention consultant and an instructor at Interboro Institute in New York City. Liz can be reached through her website at or via email at [email protected].