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Police claim I stole merchandise from a store – what should I do?

Maybe you went to scan items through the self-checkout and missed something or store clerks falsely claim that you attempted to steal merchandise. Whatever led the store to move forward with allegations of theft, it is important to note that you are not alone. Macy’s and Target are just two examples of major department stores making public statements about increased shoplifting in their stores. They are making changes to how they do business, arguing that rampant theft is hurting their bottom line.

This highly publicized discourse has led to calls for a crackdown, but could it do more harm than good? Could this discourse result in an increase in false allegations?

How common is retail theft?

First off, it appears the problem is really not as large as initially reported. There are some outlets that claim theft is on the rise. One example, the National Retail Federation. This retail focused group states 78% of store managers report an increase in retail theft in their stores. Although concerning, data does not support this belief. The Council on Criminal Justice dug deeper and found these numbers were inaccurate. Upon initial review, it appears shoplifting rates increased after the pandemic. However, with closer analysis it becomes clear shoplifting rates have significantly increased in one city: New York. This data skewed the national average. Once researchers remove the data from New York, the national shoplifting rates are lower compared to pre-pandemic numbers.

Critics argue the data on the issue is unreliable because managers and store owners fail to reach out to police to report incidents of theft. As a result, there is a push for managers and others in the retail industry to encourage their employees to call the police when they suspect theft. This could result in more reliable data that supports the National Retail Federation’s argument that theft is on the rise. Researchers with the Council on Criminal Justice agree the data can be lacking and acknowledge store policies that discourage reporting theft impact their findings.

Although there are some questions about the accuracy of the data, the fact remains that there is increased pressure for stores and police to hold alleged thieves accountable.

Is retail theft a problem in Colorado?

Colorado business owners support this accountability. In a recent example, Ulta Beauty stores reached out and worked with authorities to help track down an alleged theft ring that focused on communities near Denver. Authorities pulled in local media to get the word out and ask for information to aid their investigation. It is important to move forward with such efforts carefully as they can lead to inaccurate tips and false allegations of wrongdoing.

What are my options if I am accused of stealing from a store?

The combination of a public outcry and business owner frustration could result in an increase in false allegations of shoplifting. Those who face criminal charges for shoplifting are wise to take the matter seriously. A conviction can come with steep financial penalties, potential imprisonment, and social stigma. Defenses are available. An attorney experienced in this niche area of criminal defense can review your situation and tailor a defense strategy to your case.