When shoplifting occurs should you prosecute?

Should you apprehend shoplifters and take them to court?

Should you apprehend shoplifters and take them to court? While such remedies may be tempting, few retailers desire to invest the requisite time and money.

It’s true that the legal environment stands behind you. “Virtually every state has laws that allow merchants to retain or detain suspects they believe have shoplifted,” says Dr. Richard C. Hollinger, Chair of the Department of Sociology and Criminology & Law at the University of Florida, Gainesville. Hollinger. “The purpose is to allow the police time to arrive.”

Some states have “civilian recovery acts” which allow retailers to use civil law to charge a shoplifter. The retailer gets their merchandise back and the shoplifter receives a civil fine. Another legal tool I the “trespass warning” which prohibits a shoplifter from coming back into the store for a specified period.

Yet detention carries risks. The first is physical harm: The determined thief may attack the arresting individual. Another is costly legal liability: The apprehended individual may file action for false arrest.

And then there is the cost required for paying the salaries of individuals who must spend time in the courthouse. “It may cost more to prosecute than the retailer gets back,” cautions Hollinger.

Finally, there is the risk of losing the items of stolen merchandise that must be presented in court proceedings. And by the time the case does go to court the manager who made the apprehension might have quit—and so there is no witness. In either case the case may likely be dismissed, opening the retailer up to a malicious prosecution lawsuit.

It’s all enough to keep retailers more focused on prevention than prosecution, says Hollinger. “Most prosecutions are for bringing down the big gangs with multi-million dollar operations.”

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