"We're coming into that time of year where thefts will be on the rise," Cartersville Police Capt. Jeff Black said. "Unfortunately, shoplifting is a yearlong thing but it does pick up during the holidays and shoplifting is the most common theft in Georgia mainly because it is so easy to do."
Black explained the state's shoplifting laws, sharing merchant rights in regard to confronting suspects as well as the various things people can do that are still considered to be shoplifting.
"Most of the time they conceal it," Black said. "But they can alter price tags to try to pay less than what the actual price is, transfer goods from one box to another or stick multiple items into one box, interchange a label or a tag with another label or tag. Basically, anything that will wrongfully cause the amount paid to be less than the merchant's established price.
"You have the right as a merchant to confront shoplifters under the Georgia code 51-7-60."
The crimes for shoplifting vary depending on the amount of items stolen.
"If it's less than $300, it is a misdemeanor. If it is over that, it's a felony and carries up to 10 years in prison," Black said.
Black shared insight on store design and things people carry into retail outlets that could be suspicious.
"It's amazing how many items can be dropped down into an umbrella," Black said. "Rolled up newspapers, bags and strollers can have things put in them too.
"Design your store so there are no blind spots," Black said. "Put a mirror or light in [blind areas]."
Along with urging background checks for all employees, Black warned of counterfeit money floating around the community.
"Most people are not paying with cash," he said. "But if they do, check it out. Look for the watermark. Some of it looks good. They're bleaching $5 bills and printing over them to make them look like $50 bills and that defeats the marker because it is real money."
Walmart Loss Protection Manager Shane Vaughn agreed with Black and added that $20 bills are still something to be cautious of as well.
"If you see stacks of $20s, check them," he said. "Typically, one $20 bill at a time doesn't do it. Look at the serial numbers. A lot of times they have the same numbers."
Vaughn shared that in the eight stores he supervises, 3,000 people have been caught shoplifting this year alone with more occurring every day.
"We prosecute the majority of people, but not everyone," he said.
Vaughn told the group that there are three types of shoplifters: local petty, kleptomaniac and impulse.
"The local petty [shoplifter] is a normal, every day customer who will come in and shoplift," Vaughn said. "It could be a customer you've known for years and it could be a $3 item or a $300 item. It's local theft because they are using the item for personal use.
"A klepto is hard to catch because their deception level is very low. Deception is revealed in body language. A klepto has done it for so long that they're comfortable with it. You may see them and think, 'did she just put that in her purse?' because it is that fluid.
"An impulse [shoplifter] is not your every day shoplifter. They don't go into a store with that intention."
Although some shoplifters act solo, there are those who work in teams, making them a part of organized criminal activity.
"One of the toughest things is they'll take a Rubbermaid tote and fill it up with razor blades and hit the front door," Vaughn said. "It's a distraction theft and they work in teams with someone waiting in the fire lane. They're not professionals but they are organized.
"It's tough to explain to the public what they're doing," Vaughn continued. "They're selling [the merchandise] on the black market through a fencing operation. Desirable merchandise is sold for 30 percent on the retail dollar to these small mom and pop style stores who don't know it's stolen."
Ideas were offered from the loss prevention and law enforcement viewpoints on prevention techniques, saying that a sign, alarm or camera in plain sight sometimes can be all the deterrent required to maintain a low crime rate.
"The best prevention is visual deterrence, speaking to people to let them know that you're there and checking on them periodically," Vaughn said.
"Alarm signs could be enough of a deterrent," Black said.
Deborah Sexton, representing Cartersville-Bartow Crime Stoppers, urged people to get out of the old mindset of being a snitch and focus on trying to change someone's life.
"If you were to witness someone maybe stealing a vehicle or a stranger in a person's house or mailbox, a lot of people are thinking old school 'oh, I don't need to snitch,'" Sexton said. "But this is today's world and you need to forget about that and remember defining someone's life."
Sexton pointed out that if someone is not punished, they may escalate in criminal activity "just because he didn't get his hand slapped."
CrimeStoppers, Sexton said, is a totally anonymous tip line that local residents may call to notify law enforcement in non-emergency situations. Those tips, if they lead to an arrest, may result in a reward for the caller. To determine if a tip has led to an arrest, tipsters are asked to call and provide their case identity number that was provided on the first call and ask if their tip resulted in an arrest. No other information regarding the investigation and case can be made available to callers.
"You've got an opportunity to stop crime in Bartow by using CrimeStoppers," Sexton said.
Tips can be called in to CrimeStoppers at 770-606-TIPS (8477).