OPINION: Warning to Shoplifters in St. Mary's

By Sheriff Timothy Cameron, St. Mary's County

Shoplifting, the theft of goods from retail establishment, also known as commercial burglary, is one of the most common crimes investigated by law enforcement. Since the beginning of 2008 the St. Mary's County Sheriff's Office has received and investigated 159 shoplifting theft cases from local merchants. Most shoplifters are amateurs and target larger merchants. Shoplifting costs merchants millions of dollars each year with the majority of loss being absorbed eventually by the consumer.

Local merchants take shoplifting very seriously and have a zero tolerance policy. Shoplifters in St. Mary's County are arrested and prosecuted for their crime. Many retailers believe shoplifting can be detected and prevented. Local businesses have installed anti-shoplifting technology such closed circuit monitoring devices to watch shoppers and detect potential thieves. Electronic article surveillance is also used by many retailers to protect merchandise. Electronic article surveillance is a tag (alarm) placed inside or on a piece of merchandise. The alarm will sound, as the shopper/thief exits the doors, if the merchandise had not been properly scanned and paid for at check out.

Local retailers have also employed loss prevention personnel to patrol the stores, often posing as shoppers, looking for signs of shoplifting and to detect potential shoplifters. Many of the larger retailers in St. Mary's County have also employed exit inspectors to check store receipt and compare those receipts to the items in the customer's possession.

We are committed to working with all retailers in the prevention and detection of shoplifters. Of the 159 cases investigated, 120, or 75%, have been closed by arresting the offender and recovering the stolen merchandise. We credit the retailers and loss prevention officers in those arrests. Without the retailer's electronic surveillance and detection devices and the diligent work of their loss prevention officers, our job in law enforcement would be much more difficult in combating this type of theft.

As the summer ends and the holiday season begins, we will increase our uniformed shopping center patrols and implement additional undercover deputies posing as shoppers. If you shoplift in St. Mary's County, we will catch, arrest, and prosecute you.

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