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Shoplifting Common South of Campus

2 November 2008 No Comment

By Casey Miner  At a chain clothing store on Telegraph Avenue, catching shoplifters isn’t just about ethics — it’s about making money.

On a recent weekday afternoon, one employee, who said he has worked at the store for about a year and a half, proudly displayed a row of stickers affixed to the back of his nametag – one for every thief caught. Once he catches ten, he said, the store gives him a $50 gift card.

“It’s annoying,” he said of the shoplifters. “But kids will be kids.”

Employees at the store requested anonymity because they feared reprisals from their employer. But they said they catch at least one shoplifter every day. The thieves usually swipe small items, they said; the loss is balanced out by customers who purchase more expensive goods.

Retailers all along Telegraph Avenue and Bancroft Way south of the UC Berkeley campus say shoplifters steal from them almost daily. But other than constant vigilance, they said there’s not much they can do to stop the theft.

“It happens once a day, twice a day, sometimes three times,” said Erica Weston, who manages the Urban Outfitters store on Bancroft Way near Telegraph Avenue. “And that’s just the people we catch.”

Urban Outfitters is one of shoplifters’ most frequent targets, according to Berkeley police logs. The logs show the store called about shoplifting six times over the past ten days; on two occasions, the store called twice in one day. Neighboring outlet American Apparel called once in the same time period, as did Royalty Couture on Telegraph.

Representatives from many of the stores in the area declined to be interviewed for this article, citing store policy. But those who would comment said that the thieves are mostly teenagers who take small items. Some, they said, they recognize as repeat offenders.

Weston said her store prosecutes shoplifters aggressively. “That’s why you see us in the log so much,” she said. “We don’t just let people go.”

Employees at other retailers said it isn’t always worth it to call the police.

“It’s a waste of time,” said Sal Rahman, a manager at Royalty Couture. Often, he said, employees can catch the thief in the act and retrieve the stolen goods themselves. Then they ban the thief from the store.

Berkeley Police Department spokesman Andrew Frankel said the commercial area around campus is a hotspot for shoplifting and petty theft, perhaps because of the high concentration of young people. The beat officer for the area always goes to the location and takes a report, and, in some cases, formalizes the shopkeeper’s citizen’s arrest. But as far as deterrence, he said, the police can only give advice.

“The beat officer who’s there will offer input to the store about what they could to do eliminate temptations: maybe put the items that are most pilfer-able under lock and key or the direct observation of somebody working a cash register,” he said. “It’s worth it to install cameras.”

Retailers said their preferred method of deterrence was employee surveillance.

“We can always be more vigilant, offer better customer service and floor coverage,” said Weston.

Rahman agreed. “You’ve got to keep an eye out.”

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