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Five Considerations before embracing a theft/arrest program

Loss Prevention is Unique

The one thing I can tell you after 30 years in the retail LP world with 3 major companies and several expat roles is that there are no 2 Loss Prevention programs the same.

People often ask me when there will be some kind of standardization for the trade, and my response is the same, “probably never”. 

The most successful LP programs are those that adapt to their environment, and that means taking the lead from the merchants and operators. Conducting the risk assessment, getting their commitment to risk appetite, and paving the way for a unique loss prevention program to absorb the bumps along the way makes them all different. In fact, I even used “Loss Prevention” as the general title for the function; sorry to those who are Asset Protection, Resources Protection, Enterprise Risk Management, Corporate Security, Profit Protection…you know I basically mean all of you who do “that job”….

You are as successful as the event that does NOT take place

Recently some Canadian retailers have been in the spotlight, pressed by the media to explain why they seem to have a “hands-off” policy whereby the let shoplifters get away with major thefts. “Why don’t they stop them?” question onlooking customers concerned about their tax dollars (the retailer recently highlighted are government-owned liquor stores).

And in many cases the retailers are silent. That’s okay, it’s their prerogative. And we don’t want to share too much with the public on exactly what are systems are, as the nefarious actors will use that information to try to beat the system.

The “Hands-Off” approach has been more widely used by many retailers with the increase in technology allowing them to collect evidence digitally and build a case against the shoplifters. You may already know this, but the public doesn’t and at times some mid-level LP management may not know the method to the madness of the LP Executive. 

Here are the 5 key talking points I have used with the Media to explain the considerations taken internally. In every case the reporter responded with “that makes sense, I wish somebody just explained that.”


It’s cheaper, more beneficial, and just the right thing to do, by first approaching the problem with a prevention program. I was asked once by a risk management employee what we as a division hang our hat on when nothing happens? What do we have to brag about? She was challenged by other employees complaining about their workload, with a question – “what do you guys do for the business anyway. nothing seems to happen in your area”…

My response – You are as successful as the event that does NOT take place!

It’s about prevention programs that work, to avoid incidents that unfortunately become the war stories of activity that is just not good for business.

Safety First

If you have ever stopped a shoplifter you would know to expect the unexpected. Now consider this – some shoplifters (1) steal, to (2) sell the goods, to (3) get the cash, to (4) buy the booze, and (5) feed an addiction. Liquor store bandits skip most of these steps, and getting caught is not in their plan. Desperation makes folks unpredictable, they can be intoxicated already, and that bottle they took has often been the weapon involved in serious injuries.


For decades security systems were not used to the fullest extent of their capability. Take for example video technology acting as a motion detector and triggering an intrusion alarm. They were around in the 80s and yet retailers still bought motion detectors and installed them right next to the security camera. 

Retailers are now letting technology work for them, which means the old school stop on the sidewalk is not the only way to prosecute somebody for theft. There are cases before the courts where a video has supported criminal prosecution of hundred of previous offenses. 


“If in doubt, don’t go out”. How many times has this been said to the new Loss Prevention professional only to be ignored because they think they saw something they didn’t actually see, and you got it – Bad Stop.

I don’t know what the average payout for a bad stop is these days, but check in with your General Counsel to see if they are ok with the risk. They will probably tell you claimants are far more litigious than they used to be and one bad stop can eliminate a year’s worth of good work.

The Proliferation of Recording Devices

They are everywhere… you know that! Enough said.

The bottom line is this. Just because a person is not arrested on the sidewalk as they have been in the past, doesn’t mean they can steal and get away with it. And it doesn’t mean they won’t get a visit after the fact by police to have charges brought against them.

These are the things I convey to the media when they criticize fellow retail loss preventers for not doing anything. It’s a challenging job, and seeing nothing done does not mean nothing is being done.

Hello, I’m Stephen O’Keefe. The information you read here is intended to help businesses answer some of the tough questions about everyday events in the retail environment. After spending over 3 decades in this industry we’ve seen a lot!
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About Stephen O'Keefe

As an independent consultant I leverage my experience and knowledge to help a number of companies achieve results. Clients range from non-retailers looking for guidance to serve their retail customer, to retailers looking for quick solutions to unique and costly problems, right to the Industry Association. Bottom line Matters!

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