Two recent shoplifting incidents reported at outlet malls in Pearl and Gulfport serve as a reminder to retailers and shoppers that you can’t be too careful, especially this time of year.
Crowds of holiday shoppers tend to bring out a criminal element looking to lift merchandise from stores and purchases from unlocked vehicles in parking lots.
Gulfport police arrested four suspects from New Orleans Nov. 18 and charged them with felony shoplifting from the Polo Outlet. The suspects fled on foot and by car but officers quickly rounded them up.
Last month in Pearl, shoplifters targeted the new Outlets of Mississippi shortly after its grand opening. Media reports said the suspects went to the Levi’s Outlet first and then to the neighboring Nike store. The two allegedly removed the security tags off some clothing in an attempt to steal the merchandise.
An uptick in theft during the holidays doesn’t surprise law enforcement agencies.
Gulfport Sgt. Damon McDaniel said that while large numbers of customers are hitting the stores, “the criminals are out shopping as well. We do expect it more this time of year.”
Law enforcement agencies warn shoppers to keep an eye on their valuables such as purses and wallets while going through crowded stores. It’s easy to get distracted and that’s all it takes to give a thief the chance to grab and run, they say.
McDaniel said on a recent weeknight while he was patrolling through a Walmart he saw a woman shopper walking around with a large amount of cash in her hand. “It look to be $300 or $400,” he said. “I could have been a snatch and grab kind of person.”
He said it’s not uncommon to see women walking around stores with their purses on their arm but open, giving pickpockets easy access to the contents.
“People get so caught up in the moment,” he said. “They think everybody is on the up and up and they’re not.”
Shoppers need to remember that thieves aren’t just inside the stores and the mall, they’re outside looking to lift packages from their vehicles.
The easiest prevention method is locking your vehicle and keeping purchases out of sight.
“We recommend that they put their purchases in the truck versus sitting on the back seat or floorboard,” he said. In SUVs, cover the packages and bags so they’re not visible through the windows.
Shoplifters use a simple combination of things to commit their crime. “The only trick is the distraction and quick getaway,” McDaniel said. “There’s always a driver and they have two people walking around a store and they use another two to distract employees.”
Big crowds cramming into stores and malls do tempt thieves. “Walmart gets its fair share of shoplifters but look how many people shop at Walmart,” he said.
“When it comes down to shoplifting, most businesses need to hire additional staff or invest in security for their business,” McDaniel said.
Some merchants will hire their own security services to supplement to the mall security officers.
McDaniel does not see shoplifting as a problem in the state’s second largest city, only acknowledging that “any crime is a problem.”
To help merchants protect their businesses, the Gulfport Police Department recently held the kickoff session of Business Watch, the commercial version of Neighborhood Watch. The goal of the free program is to help reduce and prevent crime through cooperation and education among law enforcement and the business community. The program includes teaching merchants how to crime-proof their properties, keeping an eye on neighboring business and reporting suspicious activity.