Most of us have seen stories like this
, where it's reported that shoplifting or retail theft is on the rise.
Here's another similar local story about burglaries being on the rise
that I just found today.
I come across them all the time.
What I continue to notice, though, is that the security industry is completely absent from them, as are any real hard numbers to back up the claims. Why is this?
Look at the USA Today story (it's from June, but it's typical, I assure you). Here are the people quoted as experts:
â€¢ Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial
â€¢ Richard Hollinger, professor of criminology at the University of Florida who compiles the annual National Retail Security Survey
â€¢ Joe LaRocca, vice president of loss prevention at the National Retail Federation
â€¢ Bruce Hutchinson, professor of economics at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
â€¢ Sgt. Alfred Pratt of the Shrewsbury, Mass., Police Department
â€¢ Samyah Jubran, a Knox County assistant district attorney general
â€¢ Mike Keenan, director of loss prevention at Mervyns department stores
â€¢ Paul Jones of the Retail Industry Leaders Association
â€¢ Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Economy.com
That, in the business, is what we call a well-sourced story. Nine people contributed their thoughts to why shoplifting might be tied to the economy and what we could do about it. Exactly none of them was an installer or monitorer (is that a word?) of security systems. Why is that? Who would know more about whether retail theft was increasing than someone like Niscayah that has a large retail security system monitoring center? Do they get more calls now than they did in the past? That would seem to give a big-picture view of what's happening, rather than a lot of empty theorizing, a la the last guy quoted:
"When the economy is down, shoplifting and other crime go up," says Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Economy.com. "People are losing jobs or moving from a full-time to a part-time job. But they still have the mortgage to pay and the credit cards to pay.
When we were kids, that would have drawn a: "No shit, sherlock." But the question still kind of remains as to whether that's actually happening. There's virtually no hard data in that story.
Here's what's supplied:
When 116 retailers were surveyed recently about shoplifting, 74% said they believed that shoplifting incidents last year had risen from 2006, according to the National Retail Federation.
They "believed" shoplifting incidents had risen? Huh? Did they, or didn't they, or can't you actually track them? That doesn't make much sense to me. Did you shrink increase or not?
All told, retail theft is estimated to cost about $40.5 billion a year.
Okay. In the United States? In the world? In North America? I'm going with the U.S., though it's not clear. This is important for later.
Look at these statements:
"In general, the shoplifter of the past was mostly trying to fuel a drug habit," says Sgt. Alfred Pratt of the Shrewsbury, Mass., Police Department. "But we've seen a change as the economy has declined. More common, everyday items are being stolen, such as groceries."
Okay, that's interesting. But isn't this something you could actually quantify? And does that mean there are fewer people stealing to support drug habits? And has Shrewsbury, Mass., been hit with a bunch of layoffs and such that would correlate with this? This just smells to me like self-validating. He thinks it's going to happen, so he notices it more when it does happen.
The district attorney's office in Knoxville, Tenn., says it's seen a similar change. "We get a lot of shoplifters, and I see the trend upward," says Samyah Jubran, a Knox County assistant district attorney general.
Okay. Again, got any numbers to support that? It's not like this is a breaking story. He could have taken his time, had a clerk do a find for shoplifting in 2007 and 2008 and seen if there actually was an uptick. I'm skeptical.
This next one is mind-blowing:
Gangs of professional thieves account for $15 billion to $30 billion in retail losses every year, the FBI and the retail federation estimated in 2005.
Somewhere between $15 and $30 billion? Am I the only one who thinks those are really, really different numbers? So, it accounts, using the above figure for total loss, for somewhere between 37 and 74 percent of all the shoplifting? How is that a remotely useful stat?
That's like me estimating that Manny Ramirez will hit between 15 and 30 home runs next season. The first would be an utter disaster for the team that signed him. The second would be pretty good.
If ORC accounts for 37 percent of retail loss, that seems kind of reasonable to me. If it accounts for 74 percent, well, then, holy crap is that a big problem.
Anyway, moving on:
"In 1991, when we started this process," Hollinger says, referring to his National Retail Security Survey, "it was like root canal."
I can't even believe this is so far down in the story. So, we've been tracking shoplifting numbers since 1991. Well, then maybe we could look and see if an increase in shoplifting correlates positively with the gross domestic product? Or the wholesale price index? Or inflation?
No, why bother with that? It's much more fun to pontificate as to whether shoplifting is increasing right now because of the economy. As I recall, the economy was pretty crappy in 1992, which is why Clinton got voted in. Was shoplifting higher then than it was in 1998, during the dot-com boom?
Eh. Why bother asking that question? It might actually be relevant.
The security industry has stats, has expertise, has valuable insight into trends and stories like these, but it has no visibility. Someone's got to make some friends at USA Today, the New York Times, ABC News, and the like, so that these mainstream crime stories include not only the industry's knowledge, but also its solutions.