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Creative and Costly, Shoplifters Plague Napa Retailers

Shoplifting "is a problem for law enforcement, businesses and the community," said Napa Police Sgt. Mike Hensley.

Shoplifters can be creative in their crimes, but they're a destructive force in Napa's economy.

Those swiping items from stores have come up with several schemes to rip off businesses and get something for nothing:

recently reported the and walked into a .

According to police, she selected several clothing items from the racks and, once inside a dressing room, removed the toilet paper and stuffed the clothing into her emptied backpack.

She didn’t make it far before she was confronted by store security and given a free ride to the under arrest, according to police.

Recent police logs also show the arrest of a homeless woman who stole a couch cover and a Napa man who put three bottles of booze inside the front of his pants and attempted to shuffle out of the store without paying.

Shoplifting is different than burglary, which is defined by California's penal code as someone who enters a dwelling with the intent to steal.

“Shoplifting, or petty theft, is usually an impulse action,” said Napa Police Capt. Jeff Troendly.

“A person may go into a store never intending to take anything. Then they spot something they really want and try to steal the item,” Troendly said.

Shoplifting is a fluctuating crime, according to Napa Police Sgt. Mike Hensley.

“Over a period of, say, five years, we see an increase, then a decrease. It’s hard to say to why it goes up and down,” Hensley said.

"But it is a problem for law enforcement, businesses and the community,” he continued.

Hensley said it is hard to put “a finger on the type of person who shoplifts.There are a lot of variables.”

He said shoplifters come in all ages.

“However, the majority of petty crimes are committed by kids between 12 and 13. We do catch seniors, but not a lot.”

Napa Police Lt. Gary Pitkin said “We see some repeat offenders.”

The thieves conjure up clever ways to make off with stolen merchandise: According to police reports, offenders conceal items in bulky clothing, shopping bags, purses, backpacks and even baby strollers.

Napa Patch asked several downtown shoppers their take on shoplifting, and Mark James made no bones about his opinion:

“It just plain sucks. I work hard to make a living. I’m honest and pay my way,” James said. “Then some lowlife just steals what he wants.

"I know it’s hard on the stores, and I’m sure that loss is passed onto the customers,” James added.

Lila Moorey took a more compassionate stance:

“It is wrong. But I also find it sad when I hear about a mother who is so poor that she has to steal diapers and medicine for her children. That’s wrong, but it is also sad,” she said.

Linda Nelson said she believes everyone suffers from shoplifting.

“The businesses have to spend money on security. Police have spend their time arresting these people and the courts are tied up with sentencing them,” she said.

“But it has been happening for years and years and years, and I don’t see it ever stopping,” Nelson added.

Businesses can take steps to cut down on shoplifting, Hensley said.

“Store surveillance cameras help tremendously. If the camera can get an identifiable picture of the suspect, it makes it easier to arrest and prosecute them,” he said.

Hensley said retailers also need to train staff to be aware of what is going on in the store.

Steve Rodriguez, manager of on Third Street, said he does just that.

“I tell my employees, 'if a person looks suspicious keep an close eye on them.' You can often spot a potential shoplifter by their actions,” Rodriguez said.

“They wander around the store for a few minutes and keep checking for store clerks and other customers.”

Rodriguez said Val's is equipped with video surveillance cameras mounted near the ceiling.

“The cameras can pretty well monitor what’s going on in the store. We check the videos everyday. If we spot someone shoplifting we take their photo, and if they come in again, we tell them to leave.”

Rodriguez said the majority of items taken at his store are small bottles of beer and wine, cocktails in a can and over-the-counter medicine.

Napa law enforcement officials say they work with merchants not only to prevent shoplifting, but catch the violators in the act.

If a shopkeeper catches someone stealing, he or she can make a citizens' arrest, Capt. Troendly said.

“We respond if the merchant requests it or if the suspect poses a danger to others," Troendly continued.

“The store owner gets as much information (as possible) about the person, such as drivers license and address, and sends it along with the suspect’s photo to us. We review the case, and if we have enough evidence, we forward it onto the district attorney for them to decide if they want to file charges,” Troendly said.

Napa County District Attorney Gary Lieberstein said if charges are filed, the suspected shoplifter is sent a court order to appear.

“If the person fails to appear in court, an arrest warrant is issued,” Lieberstein said.

Under state law, petty theft (shoplifting) is a misdemeanor unless the suspected person has three prior arrests for the same crime. Then the fourth charge becomes a felony, which can mean jail time.

Although nobody Napa Patch spoke with would estimate the local cost of shoplifting, a recent report by the radio program "Marketplace" included an interview with Rachel Shtier, author of The Steal, who told program host Kai Ryssdal that on the national scale, shoplifting is about a $12 billion crime annually, with about a $400 loss each to the average American family.

Tom Emmons July 27, 2011 at 01:10 PM
This is indeed an old problem. Retailers have a term for this, and it bundles shoplifting with spoilage and excessive markdown of merchandise. They call it "shrink".

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