Tuesday, Dec. 22
PITTSFIELD -- Shoplifting is a perennial problem, according to the experts, not merely a seasonal issue in the days leading up to Christmas and other traditional gift-giving holidays.

However, it tends to be more noticeable this time of year simply because more people are shopping -- giving the impression that the holiday season is primetime for shoplifters, whose overall pilfering causes an annual $13 billion headache for U.S. retailers.

In addition to the annual impact, shoplifting costs retailers more than $35 million a day, according to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, a Long Island, N.Y.-based organization dedicated to tracking and preventing the crime.

"It is a year-round thing," said Barbara Staib, NASP's communications director.

"I think that around the holidays, people are just more aware of it," she said. "There are more people shopping, so there are more shoplifters."

However, it's difficult to gauge whether the traditional fall and winter gift-giving season, which includes the holidays of Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa, spurs shoplifters to action.

"Does it mean that people out there are shoplifting because of the holidays? I don't know," Staib said. "We're seeing more overall this year, but that's more economy-related, not holiday-related."

For Gerald Ely, the owner of Pittsfield's K&K Discount Liquor and Variety, the problem is stubborn enough to warrant installation of seven cameras at his North Street store.


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And Ely plans to add more cameras in the new year, he said, including one that will enable him to monitor activity inside his liquor store from home.

K&K's most recent brush with a shoplifter came last week, when a man swiped two bottles of expensive cognac and ran out the door.

"He took two bottles of Hennessy," Ely said of the suspect, who hasn't been caught yet.

But Ely hopes the police will catch the man, whose image was caught on tape.

"We got him on the camera," Ely said.

Some county retail centers might be more susceptible to shoplifting than others. A spokesperson for Prime Outlets at Lee said the well-known South County shopping destination, which attracts people from near and far, appears to be relatively immune from the problem.

"We rarely get people telling us that they've gotten hit [by shoplifters]," said Carolyn Edwards, the senior marketing manager for Prime Outlets, adding that the center's location and clientele could also play a role.

"We're isolated a bit," she said. "I think that the clientele at the outlets tends to be a bit different."

However, the holiday season coupled with the poor economy would certainly make this time of year seem ideal for shoplifting, Edwards conceded.

Pittsfield police made several shoplifting arrests last week, but a department spokesman said those arrests weren't unusual and weren't attributable to the holiday season.

"They were nothing out of the ordinary," Pittsfield Police Sgt. Michael Grady said.

In the span of three days last week, Pittsfield police responded to four shoplifting reports, including an incident at Carr Hardware on Saturday afternoon, when a city man was charged with assault after store personnel caught him stealing. Nobody was seriously injured, Grady said.

In an incident Thursday, a city resident was charged with carrying a dangerous weapon after he was found with more than $100 worth of merchandise taken from a local store.

"He had a steak knife in his pocket," Grady said of the alleged shoplifter.

The number of shoplifting cases in Pittsfield has remained relatively stable in recent years -- other than a big jump from 2004 to 2005, when the number of incidents went from 38 to 100.

Since then, however, there were 96 reported cases in 2006, 127 in 2007, and 117 in 2008, according to Police Department data. As of September, there were 99 reported cases.

One out of every 11 Americans is a shoplifter, 75 percent of whom are adults, according to data from the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention.

More than 10 million Americans have shoplifted over the past five years, while roughly 55 percent of adult shoplifters say they began their criminal activity as teenagers, according to NASP's Web site, www.shopliftingprevention.org.

Staib said NASP's information is culled from national retail associations, law enforcement agencies, and criminal justice data.