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Why COVID-19 Has Increased Demand for Off-Duty Police in Retail

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With the advent of the pandemic and societal unrest, today’s retailers are faced with evolving threats like never before. Unfortunately, the pandemic has created the ‘perfect storm’ for increased retail crime. In the midst of the pandemic, many retailers report that organized retail crime networks are becoming more aggressive than ever.

The National Retail Federation’s 2020 National Retail Security Survey “finds shrink at an all-time high, accounting for 1.62% of a retailer’s bottom line – costing the industry $61.7 billion.” In addition, retailers report losing $703,320 per $1 billion in annual sales volume due to organized retail crime (ORC) activity in the past 12 months. This is the fourth year in a row that losses have topped $700,000. Technology and social media have made it easier for malicious groups targeting retail organizations to communicate with each other, as well as find an active market for the resale of stolen goods.

Several states have raised their threshold for felony thefts. Criminal groups targeting retail organizations appear to have an understanding of the laws that govern their illegal activities. In states where the felony threshold has increased, over half of retailers have reported an increase in organized retail crime. Criminals are targeting a range of products, from high-end designer clothes to daily necessities. Where there is an opportunity for profit, one can assume that criminal groups will exploit it. Organizers, boosters, fencing operations, re-packagers and even illegitimate wholesalers might all be involved. Hence, retailers can achieve peace of mind by accessing a network of experienced investigators and analysts, who can assist with organized retail crime related engagement and stem the losses impacting retailers.

The role of asset protection and loss prevention professionals is more important than ever to ensure retail organizations thrive in the wake of the pandemic as it has drastically affected the retail industry and the 42 million Americans it employs. It is key for asset protection and loss prevention professionals to identify the most vulnerable area to ORC activity within their organization to strategically deploy resources to combat this activity, which avoids unnecessary spend for the retailers.

So what are retailers doing to safeguard their stores from ORC rings? Many companies have made changes to point-of-sale policies and return policies in addition to allocating additional technology resources and increasing their AP/LP budgets to address risk overall. 

Off-Duty Police at Retailers

In order to assist in combating the issues of societal unrest, many companies are enlisting the services of security companies that can provide off-duty police officers (ODOs) to safeguard their stores, employees and customers. In fact, security companies are receiving unprecedented requests for ODOs.

Whether a police officer is on or off duty, they retain the authority of their law enforcement position and may make an arrest if necessary. They can also call in crimes to get support from other police officers. ODOs detect crimes in real-world situations, interact with the public, and know how to handle themselves professionally in a high-pressure environment.

Retailers want to make sure that their customers feel safe and that they are enthusiastic about coming back to their stores. Given the COVID-imposed shutdowns, retailers need to make their store environment as safe as possible for their customers. 

What are ODOs responsible for on the retail front? In addition to their actual presence acting as a deterrent to criminal activity, ODOs can also assist retailers with their investigative expertise to assist with organized retail crime engagement. 

The use of ODOs offers great relief to store employees, who have no security or law enforcement training, propelled into the role of ‘store sheriff,’ having to enforce social distancing measures with customers who may become agitated and potentially violent.

While no one can predict with certainty the mindset of shoppers when the pandemic has run its course, it’s safe to say that retailers who keep a finger on shopper safety are more likely to survive than those who take a wait-and-see approach.

Retailers are sharing positive feedback on the deployment of officers at their facilities. There’s no doubt that the professionalism of law enforcement, with their ability to deescalate situations and troubleshoot crimes, makes them an invaluable part of the retail family.

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Joshua Skule is Senior Vice President of the Risk Advisory and Consulting Services division at Allied Universal®. He joined Allied Universal after a distinguished 21-year career in the FBI, where he was recently the Executive Assistant Director for Intelligence leading the organization’s Intelligence Branch. He can be reached at Joshua.Skule@aus.com.

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