By P. A. Tezuka, SMC Public Affairs
/ Published April 03, 2008
Los Angeles Air Force Base -- Shoplifters be warned! You are being watched and you will be caught...
"...Maybe not the first time; maybe not the second time ... but we will catch up with you," said Chester Hires, general manager of the Army & Air Force Exchange Services here on base.
In 2007, shoplifting incidents increased 61percent, from 46 the previous year to 75, at the combined southern California Army & Air Force Exchange Services at Los Angeles AFB and March AFB, Riverside. The dollar figure decreased from $5,700 to $4,400 due to the lesser value of the items stolen.
"We've experienced increase in shoplifting cases worldwide throughout the AAFES system," he said. "Just like us, the case lot has almost doubled. The dollar amount is down here; but overall, that's up too worldwide."
Items stolen are usually small in size - things that can be easily tucked away into a purse or a pocket or under a jacket.
According to Hires, girls between the ages of 15 and 26 are stealing mass market cosmetics such as Revlon, Cover Girl, and Wet and Wild. Boys in that same age group are stealing DVDs and video games. There are more shoplifting cases by girls than boys but the cost amount is lower because they steal items such as a $1.95 lipstick whereas boys are stealing items such as a $39.95-video game.
Adults are stealing day-wear and workout clothing, children's clothing, expensive prestige-brand cosmetics and purses, DVDs and tools.
"We've had instances where the parents use the child as a cover for them to do the crime," he said. "That's not good because you're setting a precedent for your children."
Shoplifters usually work as an individual and not as a group. They include military members, spouses and dependents, retirees and BX employees. When caught, the individual will lose I.D. privileges to shop at all base activities including BX, commissary and Morale, Welfare and Recreation activities. Military member could be discharged military for shoplifting. It not only affects the shoplifter but the whole family will suffer from the crime. Employees will be immediately terminated.
"When a dependent takes an item, it is the sponsor who is now at risk of losing their career, losing their current rank, or be put on suspension," said Hires. "As far as retirees, they could lose their privileges to come back and shop. That's a harsh thing for them since they are on a fixed income."
In one instance, guests of a military member were caught shoplifting, which caused the member to be accountable as their sponsor. In such instances, the incident will be recorded on the sponsor' s military record and their superiors will be notified.
"It's a risk that I don't think is worth taking," he said. "Definitely, we want them to think twice before they decide to steal."
Measures are taken in an effort to deter shoplifting. Electronic article surveillance tags are affixed to merchandise which sound alarms if not deactivated when they pass through the sensor at the exits. Very expensive items are protected in locked cases. There are security cameras mounted at the front of the store. Plain-clothed detectives constantly roam the store posed as shoppers.
"They (the detectives) do a very good job. Unfortunately, that's not usually a good thing because that means people are shoplifting," said Hires. "Our intent is not to catch the shoplifters. We want to prevent individuals from being tempted to shoplift. Obviously when we do make a stop, it's an embarrassing situation, not only for the person who's actually being stopped, but for the detectives as well."
High-tech surveillance DVR cameras also record activities within the store and are reviewed and used as evidence. Questionable activities are noted and individuals are monitored when they return to the store. When arrested by the base security forces, the shoplifter can be prosecuted, not only for the current crime, but for previous incidents as well.
"The important thing is to prevent individual from becoming that first-time shoplifter. If they feel they could get away with it, they're going to continue to do it," he said. "And they will be caught. It's just a question of when."
BX patrons sometimes become a source of shoplifting prevention also. They provide another set of eyes to help protect the store. Hires asks if shoppers notice any suspicious activities in the store, notify the store associates and don't handle the situation themselves. The store detectives are well trained to manage shoplifting situations.
"It's definitely not wise to follow the person,' he said.
"By being part of the solution, shoppers able to protect their investment in to the MWR activities and functions on base," said Hires, referring to the contributions to the base.
AAFES donates approximately 65 percent of its net earnings to the base MWR system which supports the base facilities such as the gym, the ticket office and the club. Last year, the Los Angeles AFB Exchange Services contributed $227,000 to the base.
When someone steals, not only are they stealing from the store but they are also stealing from other service members' benefit to enjoy the MWR activities. According to Hires, from the $4,400 worth of items shoplifted, approximately $1,000 would have been the profit.
"That's another $650 that could have been donated. That could have been another Stair Stepper, another treadmill, or some other exercise equipment for the gym," he said. "They're stealing from themselves."