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CCTV Security and Shoplifting

An evaluation of the claim that the use of closed circuit television cameras (CCTV) in retail establishments can cut down on the amount of shoplifting that occurs.

This essay topic requires an examination to be conducted regarding the use of CCTV in the retail industry as a way to reduce the amount of shoplifting that occurs. This will be performed by first providing an overview of the type of individuals that actually commit shoplifting crimes, as well as whether there are differences in shoplifters based on whether a store in question is a high-end luxury store or a low-end discount store. Then, an examination of previous research on the effect of the use of CCTV as a way to reduce shoplifting will be examined. The analysis of the research will involve not only presenting the results of the studies, but also examining what the results might indicate about how should implement the use of CCTV and the training of its employees. All of this information will lead to a set of recommendations being provided regarding the use of CCTV and its ability to reduce and even prevent shoplifting in stores.

In order for any crime prevention method to be effective, there must be an understanding of the type of people that are likely to commit a specific type of crime. In the case of shoplifting crimes, creating a specific profile of a person that is likely to steal items is difficult because each store is likely to have shoplifters that fit the overall demographic that is served. For example, a store that sales power equipment and tools is likely to have more shoplifters who are men. On the other hand, a store that targets young adults through the sale of video games or movies is likely to have shoplifters who are younger. In addition, stores that cater to high-end customers are more likely to have shoplifters that that have higher incomes. In the end, the customers that are targeted by specific stores will attract shoplifters that generally fit those demographic characteristics.

However, the research does indicate that all shoplifters are likely to have certain outward actions and behaviors in a store in which they are about to engage in the act of theft. One of the actions of a shoplifter is that he or she is likely to constantly look around to determine if others are watching his or her movements. A shoplifter is also likely to generally be nervous and avoid eye contact with other people. Even more, a shoplifter is likely to walk around a store in a nervous manner for an extended period of time. A person in a department store who plans to steal clothes might walk past a certain clothing display several times before even actually stopping to examine the item in question.

Shoplifters also generally want to locate themselves in parts of stores where they are unlikely to be seen by others. Obviously, this is due to the fact that they are about to commit a crime. This characteristic is important because it leads into the larger question of this research as to whether CCTV cameras might provide the ability for stores to more easily monitor all retail spaces to prevent shoplifters from going unnoticed. This also raises the question of whether CCTV can act as a deterrent because potential shoplifters know that a store is less likely to have spaces that are not actively monitored. This also raises the question of whether CCTV is more effective at being a criminal deterrent or actually for capturing shoplifters in the act so that they can be caught before leaving a store and turned into the police.

For the retail industry, the use of CCTV cameras is based on the idea of removing the ability for shoplifters to hide in areas where employees may not be placed or where employees may not have the ability to watch the actions of customers. Research has shown that the use of CCTV cameras in stores can reduce shoplifting crimes by over 50% in a single Year. One of the issues that is present with some of the research, however, is the type of CCTV cameras that are used in the stores that are analyzed. There are a variety of CCTV cameras. Some of the cameras are hidden and cannot be seen at all by shoppers. Other types of CCTV cameras, however, are placed under small domes that are attached to the ceiling of stores. Shoppers are able to easily identify the cameras by the present of the small domes that house the cameras.

The issue that is raised by some in the academic community is whether there is a confounding effect on research regarding CCTV usage because it may be that any type of crime deterrence effort will have some type of positive effect with regards to crime prevention. In addition, there has been some discussion that the positive impact that has been shown in terms of reduction of shoplifting crimes with CCTV is not uniform in nature. What is meant by this is that as more people enter a store, there is likely to be a larger percentage of those people that are potential shoplifters. As larger numbers of potential shoplifters visit a store, then there is a likelihood that the chance of catching a shoplifting will also increase.

Research conducted by Ratcliff, Taiguichi & Taylor found that the use of CCTV in retail stores reduced crime by 13% as compared to before the cameras were installed in the same stores. However, the authors of the study do note that while the overall positive effect was a reduction in shoplifting by 13%, a more specific analysis the data revealed that in about half of the locations in the stores in which the cameras were installed, no significant reduction in crime occurred. This is important because it is somewhat of an indication that the half of the cameras that were purchased and installed were wasted on crime deterrence and prevention efforts. The authors of the study actually explain that in order for CCTV to be truly effective, it may not be a matter of installing the technology in all areas of a store, but in those areas in which shoplifting has been found to be a major problem.

The authors also suggest that CCTV may need to be used in relation to a specific set of goals or objectives. For example, if a store has the objective of using CCTV has a crime deterrent, then it might be necessary to place the cameras in locations in which customers can easily see them and realize that they are being recorded and watched. On the other hand, if the objective is to catch shoplifters because of a high rate of thefts in a specific part of a store, then perhaps the use of hidden cameras in that area, or the use of a larger number of visible cameras in that particular area is necessary. It may be a matter of not trying to cover an entire store with camera surveillance, but targeting specific areas for which a problem exists.

In some respects, this idea of the targeted use of CCTV may also go back to the larger idea of the actions and characteristics of shoplifters. If a person that is thinking about theft in store wants to find a remote area of a store where his or her actions will go unnoticed, then the placement of cameras in these types of areas would seem to be prudent. However, placing CCTV cameras at the entrance of a store or near a cashier might be a waste of money because it is unlikely that a shoplifter is going to commit an act of theft so close to an employee that could witness the theft and identify the thief.

Howell & Proudlove have found in their research that while CCTV cameras do reduce the amount of theft that occurs in stores, the positive effect is much lower for high traffic stores as compared to low traffic stores. Once again, the issue is about the number of people that are around to witness a potential criminal act. In a high traffic store where there are likely large numbers of employees and large numbers of shoppers, a potential shoplifter is going to be more scared to commit an act of theft. However, in stores where there are fewer employees and fewer customers to observe a theft, a shoplifter is likely to feel more secure in stealing an item without being noticed or caught.

In this regard, CCTV may only need to be one part of a larger crime prevention and deterrence effort. It has been argued that for CCTV to truly be effective in any meaningful way to prevent crime, particularly in large numbers, it use needs to be visible and customers need to know that they are being watched. If this is indeed true, the it would also be possible to reduce shoplifting simply by hiring a larger number of employees or hiring people that are specifically trained to identify potential shoplifters and follow them around a store. Coleman & Sim (2000: 637) argue that CCTV should only be one part of a larger crime deterrence and prevention strategy. They state that while CCTV can be effective under certain conditions, there is also a need for actual employees to monitor the activities of customers and to have a presence in areas in which shoplifters might feel that they are able to go unnoticed by others.

There is also concern that only use CCTV can result in stores facing scrutiny over the people that are targeted and monitored as potential shoplifters. Research has demonstrated that operates of CCTV cameras often base their decisions on whom to watch on stereotypes. For example, CCTV camera operates are more likely to watch minorities, younger people, and men over older adults, women, and non-minorities. Not only can this result in accusations of racism or bigotry on the part of stores and their employees, it can also further reduce the effectiveness of CCTV because as the research has shown, people that take part in shoplifting are actually likely to fit the general demographic that is targeted by a store. Using CCTV to minority people that are poorly dressed in a store that caters to people with higher incomes may result in many shoplifters being missed because they are wearing high-end clothes and appear to be the type of people that would shop at the store.

Based on the information and research that has been examined, the answer to the question about whether CCTV acts as a deterrent and prevention method for shoplifting appears to be that it does indeed prevent and deter theft in stores. However, this answer must be tempered somewhat with the more in-depth response that CCTV only prevents shoplifting in stores that might not otherwise have a large number of employees or customers to prevent potential shoplifters from being scared away from committing a crime. In addition, simply placing CCTV cameras throughout a store without little regards for past problems of shoplifting or a lost of merchandise is likely to result in less than desirable benefits.

Overall, CCTV is not a means by itself to prevent shoplifting in stores. Instead, is a tool that can be used as part of a larger crime prevention effort. However, the use of CCTV requires a great deal of thought about a store, its needs, and its past problems with shoplifting. It is not something that can be implemented in order to avoid the work of creating a larger crime prevention and deterrence plan. Otherwise, what is likely to occur is that CCTV is have little effect on shoplifting and may actually have no effect at all on the amount of merchandise that a store looses in a given year.

With this information, the recommendation that would be made to a retail store is to make the use of CCTV part of a larger crime deterrence and prevention program. CCTV should be used in mostly in remote areas of a store in which shoplifters might otherwise be able to hide. In addition, stores need to train employees to walk around the areas of a store in which they work and interact with customers and as to not allow potential shoplifters to feel that they are being ignored and have the opportunity to steal something. These two recommendations can prevent a store from using money to implement CCTV in a way that will not provide benefits that exceed the costs of the equipment.

In addition, stores need to train their personnel to identify shoplifters not based on stereotypes, but based on the research that is available. Employees must understand that in a high-end store, for example, the shoplifters are likely to be the people that appear to be well dressed and have money to spend. It is not the people who appear out of place in the store who are more likely to steal because they do not fit a certain demographic characteristic that is perceived to be the appropriate customer. Instead, trying to target and observe people based on stereotypes is likely to result in true shoplifters not being identified and being able to easily walk out of a store with merchandise.

Finally, all of these recommendations should be with specific goals and objectives in mind. There must be some idea of what is being prevented in the first place. To simply state that shoplifting is being prevented does not relate the actions being undertaken to the actual needs of a particular store. Otherwise, there will be no way for employees to know what to look for or how shoplifting has been a problem in the past. There will also be no way to actually determine if the resources that are used for shoplifting prevention and deterrence are actually providing real benefits to a store and preventing the loss of merchandise.


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