Providence Business News (PBN) – November 24, 2023 – December 7, 2023 Issue
In this article, CEO Gian Gentile shares his thoughts on the rise in crime during the holiday season.
Article from Providence Business News:
Stressed about the holidays already? You’re not alone.
Every year, shop owners not only worry about stocking shelves with the right products, they also need to make sure those products don’t leave the store without being paid for.
Seth Margolis, owner and president of Fifth Ward Liquor Inc. on Thames Street in Newport, says his store was hit three separate times last winter by the same shoplifting woman who allegedly had embarked on a spirited spree throughout the city.
“One of my guys chased her down the street the last time,” he said. “After that, she must have thought, ‘Now they are on to me.’ ”
Margolis keeps the pricier products such as high-end champagne, wines and spirits locked in display cases and relies on security cameras that record both inside the store and the parking lot. He can’t dedicate a staffer solely to loss prevention during the holidays, so he’s trained employees to stay vigilant, particularly when large groups enter.
According to the 2023 National Retail Survey, retail theft is now a $100 billion business after factoring in product costs, insurance, increased price of goods and unrealized wages. Close to half of retailers surveyed said they increased loss-prevention budgets in 2022 and 58% of them said their security personnel are allowed to “confront and detain” shoplifters.
In Rhode Island, where 25% of jobs are supported by the retail industry, shoplifting crimes have ticked up, with most reported incidents on a statewide basis happening between October and February.
Margolis thinks the reason shoplifting increases during that time is the arrival of vacationing thieves on holiday from out of town.
“They feel like, ‘They are never going to know who I am,’ ” he said. “But it could be anybody. A young kid or an elderly person.”
Another trend is the rise in organized retail theft, the coordinated theft of merchandise for reselling.
“They come in groups and will usually try and spread out the staff,” Margolis said. “They’ll ask you questions about this or that while someone else tries to put something in a bag.”
According to bank holding company Capital One Financial Corp., Rhode Island retailers lost $244 million in revenue to theft in 2022, amounting to $17.1 million in forgone state tax revenue. Retailers also lost $18.6 million to fraudulent returns.
Theft of more than $1,500 is a felony in Rhode Island, but the state is among 18 that have not enacted legislation specific to organized retail crime.
Less than half of retail thefts end in a successful prosecution, according to data provided to the R.I. State Police’s Uniform Crime Reporting Unit. Statewide, there were 1,449 reported shoplifts in 2022. So far in 2023, there have been 1,466 incidents, a majority from department stores, shopping malls and “specialty shops.”
Providence has seen a decline in reported retail thefts and arrests year over year. In 2022, the city had 225 reported shoplifting offenses. There have been 183 so far this year.
Josh Estrella, spokesperson for Mayor Brett P. Smiley, says shoplifting incidents often go unreported.
“It is important to note that sometimes in these cases, the retailers will often make an insurance claim instead of engaging Providence police,” he said.
However, shoplifting incidents this year have already surpassed 2022 levels in some cities, including Cranston, which had 166 reported shoplifting incidents in 2022 compared with 173 so far in 2023. Pawtucket’s data shows 81 in 2022 and 94 this year. Incidents in Newport have almost doubled over 2022, and shoplifting thefts have eclipsed last year’s numbers in North Providence, East Providence and Barrington.
The national survey shows investments in security spending are projected to increase 28% by 2026. Businesses that can afford the expense often hire temporary private security details.
Gian Gentile, CEO of SecurityRI.com, says the bulk of his company’s business remains providing private security guards to businesses. But the company also sells and installs security equipment, which has advanced since the days of grainy video footage.
Gentile predicts the use of artificial intelligence in retail security will increase as the technology advances and costs decline. SecurityRI provides cameras that can pick up faces, behaviors and certain clothing, and can start tracking someone from outside in a parking lot and follow them around until the moment they exit.
“It’s getting extreme the levels of intelligence,” he said. “Instead of looking through hours and hours of footage, you can search anything instantly.”
The technology will be particularly useful to combat organized retail crime.
“These groups seem like professionals,” Gentile said. “They can work in under a minute.”
Gentile says the mere presence of security guards can serve as a deterrent, especially during the holiday season. For retail jobs, SecurityRI has a “hands off” policy unless in self-defense. Guards refrain from physically apprehending shoplifters.
“It just makes it feel like a safer environment,” he said. “And for small boutiques and retail shops, it’s good to have that additional presence. We are the eyes and ears and help reduce the risks as much as possible.”
(Thank you Providence Business News for the feature!)