PITTSFIELD -- Shoppers aren’t the only ones who look forward to the holiday season. Shop lifters do, too.
Shoplifting increases about 75 percent during the holiday season, according to Michael Mott, the asset protection coordinator at the Walmart on Hubbard Avenue.
With assistance from the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce and Pittsfield Police Detective Kim Bertelli, Mott this week gave representatives of several small businesses tips on how to reduce store thefts as they head into the most wonderful time of the year.
The workshop was the first of four programs designed for store owners that the chamber is holding in conjunction with the Pittsfield Police Department and Greylock Federal Credit Union. All four seminars take place at 1Berkshire’s executive offices on Allen Street.
This week’s seminar focused on what a business could do in terms of setup and floor layout to protect goods from theft.
"It was empowering," said Donna Todd Rivers, the owner of Bisque, Beads and Beyond on North Street. "It made me realize that it’s OK to hold people accountable for stealing."
As a small-business owner, Rivers said she often tries to walk a fine line between being helpful to customers and being vigilant for shoplifters.
"You can still do that and hold people accountable," she said. "Stealing is stealing."
Mott called store theft a "serious issue" that doesn’t discriminate since it affects small businesses and major chains. Employee theft and shoplifting combined account for the largest source of property crime committed annually in the United States, according to Pittsfield Police.
Mott suggested several preventive measures, from greeting customers as they come in to displaying merchandise in areas where store employees can observe customers.
Shopkeepers should never leave cash registers unattended, he said.
"It’s an opportunity for someone to ... pop it open," Mott said.
Retailers have also reported an increase in what Mott called "organized retail crime" -- professional shoplifters who enter a store with a specific goal in mind. Police often find that those who fit into this category have criminal records in several states, he said.
Mott also recommended the installation of security systems, particularly cameras.
The prices of video surveillance systems are becoming more affordable, Mott said, where as "alarm system prices are really high."
Camera systems can also give police the evidence they need to prosecute, Mott said.
"If you have a camera, and you know someone took a pair of gloves, you can go back and replay the camera," Bertelli said. "You don’t have to catch them in the act."
Bertelli said employers should also not be shy about placing signs in their stores warning shoplifters that they will be prosecuted. She said legitimate shoppers won’t take offense because they aren’t looking to steal anything.
"So many stores think they are going to offend people," she said.
According to Bertelli, state law allows store owners to question shoppers who have been seen to conceal merchandise, but not to detain them. She suggested that store owners call police if they suspect someone has shoplifted.
"If you get a description, and a license plate number, we’ll stop them," she said.
Mott said store owners should use caution when confronting shoplifters, because some customers, especially those involved with drugs, can turn "very violent." Mer ch ants should also avoid confronting shoplifters outside of their stores.
"If you start yelling and screaming at them, they’ll take off or fight you," he said. "Obviously, you don’t want a confrontation in front of the store."
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