Standing up against shoplifting

Business owners installing cameras to decrease thefts

REED CITY– Chris Kibbey, owner of Chris’s Country Dollar in downtown Reed City, finds evidence of something stolen in her store two or three times a week.

Most of the stolen items cost about $1 and are small items such as vitamins, aspirin, makeup, fingernail polish.

Shoplifters have been caught in the act Kibbey said, but many cases go unreported.

“Sometimes they take something out of the package and we don’t find that until another customer wants to (buy it),” Kibbey said.

Because of the increase in shoplifting activity, the business has plans to purchase surveillance cameras in hopes of decreasing theft and identifying criminals.

“We’re a small business and we have a lot of small things. It’s so easy to slip things up a sleeve,” Kibbey said. “At least when we don’t catch (shoplifters) right when they do it, we’ll have (camera footage) for later.”

Cameras are an asset to any investigation, said Reed City Police Chief Chuck Davis. Two weeks ago a man who stole a tank of gas and an energy drink at Wesco was identified because of footage from cameras at the store.

“Cameras are a huge deterrent and we’ve solved a lot of cases because of them,” Davis said.

The INC Spot also plans to install cameras to stop the shoplifting the store experiences regularly. Manager Brenda Bowman said one day last week she found nine empty electrical cord packages on the shelves at the store.

“When your stuff is so cheap, you really don’t expect people to be stealing from you,” Bowman said.

Along with installing a surveillance system, local businesses owners work together to stop potential crimes in their community. When a suspicious individual leaves one store and goes to another, business owners keep each other informed.

“We have a system,” Bowman said. “If someone’s here that looks questionable, we’ll call each other.”

Reed City police have only received a few calls in the past few years to report shoplifting, but no matter how small the item is, an investigation will always take place when the police are contacted, Davis said.

The penalty for retail fraud of the third degree, taking an item priced less than $100, is a misdemeanor with a maximum punishment of 93 days in jail, said Osceola County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Sims. The penalty increases with the value of the item stolen and the amount of times a person is caught. An item stolen priced more than $1,000 is considered a felony.

“If somebody gets busted too many times for this, they can face prison time,” Sims said.

Many repeat shoplifters steal something small the first time and then increase the frequency and value of items stolen.

“If we can stop them early, we will,” Sims said. “It may not look like its a very big crime, but if you have somebody doing this every single day, it becomes a serious burden to these business and that is reflected onto consumers.”

Davis said many times when he responds to calls for shoplifting, business owners have recorded a license plate or description of the person and the investigation is successful. If business owners call quickly, the potential to arrest the thief is greater.

“Sometimes we get there and (the shoplifter) is still there,” Davis said.

Bowman said many times she sees suspicious individuals enter the store in a group and then scatter to different areas. She has a code phrase she uses with her staff to alert them to be on the lookout for shoplifters.