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News: How Shoplifters Think: Inside Retailing

Published: Tuesday 30 November, 2010

It is something of a conundrum that security professionals, geared to assessing risk, have placed so little emphasis on understanding the behavior of offenders.

They are not alone.

Criminologists who focus on different aspects of crime, have paid limited attention to the ways different types of offenders make decisions and the things that influence them. If we have not sought to properly understand how offenders think, how they react to the threat posed by different security measures, and the skills sets and resources they need to employ to circumvent them, then should we really be surprised that we are often not successful at preventing crime?

Thinking of just offenders for a moment, how can we realistically expect to tackle crime effectively if we do not have the answers to questions such as, what sort of planning is involved? How do offenders choose that target? What makes it easy or difficult and why? What sort of skills are necessary to be successful? Where do offenders get intelligence from? How to they find accomplices? What are their most important considerations when carrying out the offence? How do they choose their method of attack? How do they get away? What do they do with the stolen goods/money? How do they avoid capture or what makes them get caught? How do they manage the threat posed by the police? How seriously do they take the threat of punishment generally and/or imprisonment specifically? These are just examples but understanding the answers to these questions is a minimum requirement for effective security. The problem is that relevant research is in short supply.

The aim of this article is to better understand the decision making process of one group of offenders, shoplifters.

Identifying the key points at which decisions are made affords the opportunity to influence that decision. So rather than the thief deciding that he/she will continue with the offence, we can influence him/her through good security to desist. The paper is based on learning from what previous research has been done, and new research that included taking offenders back to the scenes of their crimes, retail stores, and recreating offences with offenders to better understand what they see as the crucial decision points, and the influences upon them at those key stages. This is supplemented by interviews with convicted thieves. Although the study is based on shoplifters the findings offer the potential to frame thinking about how other types of offenders behave, and how, therefore, they can be encouraged to be stopped.

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