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Businesses receive tips to fight shoplifting

Sgt. Investigator Naomi Plautz of the Wadena Police Department gave a presentation about shoplifting to business leaders during the monthly Chamber of Commerce meeting June 12.

The police department gets shoplifting calls about once every week or two, Plautz said, adding that it has gone down partly because business owners are more aware and proactive.

Plautz said there are two different kinds of shoplifters: "careers" who are more skilled and consistent, and "amateurs" who are less skilled.

Chamber of Commerce executive director Shirley Uselman recounted an example of a reformed "career" shoplifter who broke into stores to point out security flaws.

Shoplifting cases also include inside staff themselves stealing from the business.

"I've had a few severe employee cases within the last six months," Plautz said.

She said that people rarely shoplift for economic necessity: in the vast majority of cases, they do have the money for what they are stealing. She said that while some people have a disorder that compels them to steal, most are in it for the adrenaline thrill.

Plautz talked about what business owners and employees can do if they catch a person shoplifting.

She said that if a shoplifter changes his or her mind and ditches the item they intend to steal while still in the store, he or she can be approached but not prosecuted. Once a shoplifter leaves a store with the stolen goods, however, that person can be prosecuted.

When police are called, they will want to know a description of the suspect, clothing, vehicle if it applies, what direction the suspect left in and other details.

"The most important thing is not to get into a physical confrontation if possible," Plautz said. "If they force you into that situation, defend yourself... but I wouldn't chase them down and tackle them."

Juvenile shoplifters should be approached the same way as adults, but law enforcement will deal with the parents.

Plautz said photos of juvenile and even adult shoplifters cannot be posted publicly - but they can be posted to inform employees.

"Seems like the system is just rigged for the criminals," Randy Taggart said.

One way to discourage repeat shoplifting is sending the offender a trespass order by certified mail. The order bans the offender from going into the property for one year. Plautz said trespass orders used to be effective for just 90 days, but now the statute is expanded.

Video surveillance cameras are another method to discourage shoplifters. Plautz said business owners have no legal obligation to post signs informing the public about video surveillance on their own property. She also said video surveillance cameras are less expensive than they used to be.