Merchants wary of shoplifters during holiday shopping season

November 30, 2012 10:03:43 AM

Sarah Fowler - [email protected]


As shoppers file into stores, anxiously searching for that perfect Christmas gift, retailers are taking steps to protect themselves from another kind of shopper -- shoplifters.  


Twelve people were arrested in November on shoplifting charges. Interestingly, none of those arrests occurred over the Black Friday weekend.  


Gail Culpepper, general manager of Leigh Mall, attributes increased security for the low shoplifting incidents as Christmas shopping season kicks into gear. Culpepper, who has been the mall's manager for eight years, said she always beefs up security around the holiday season.  


"Besides having a private security company contracted, we have hired off-duty and retired police officers," she said. "I hire them every year." 


Culpepper said two officers regularly patrol the mall. On occasion, there are also security officers on the roof of the mall to keep an eye out for thieves who prey on shoppers in the parking lot.  


She said the officers do not have a specific post and are constantly moving throughout the mall. She added that there are multiple surveillance cameras in the mall and she feels that has deterred the majority of shoplifters.  


"You've got security walking constantly and doing walk-throughs, that's a big deterrent," she said.  


"Plus, with each store having surveillance, I really have never had a problem at all." 


Culpepper said that while she feels the mall does not have a problem with shoplifters, she is aware of new tactics the thieves use.  


"The newest thing is a snatch-and-grab," she said. "It's pretty common." 


Culpepper said during a snatch-and-grab, a shoplifter will go to a jewelry store and ask to see a piece of jewelry inside the case. When the employee pulls out the piece of jewelry, the shoplifter's accomplice will distract the employee, giving the shoplifter an opportunity to grab the jewelry and run.  


Culpepper said those instances are becoming increasingly common, but a tried and true method is when shoplifters use their children to steal.  


"The saddest thing is when groups come in with children," she said. "They put the merchandise in the child's stroller. Then when they're caught, they blame it on the children. They use them and then the children are the innocent ones. I think it's sad. People are desperate. They'll do anything." 


Columbus Police Chief Selvain McQueen said his department has increased patrol during the holiday season in hopes that a visible law enforcement presence will deter shoplifters. He added that the majority of shoplifters who target local stores are from out of town. However, the chief had a warning for the would-be thieves.  


"If you come into town, you're going to see us," he said.

Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.