Shoplifters stealing food 'to live' as prices soar in B.C., expert says (external - login to view)
By ELAINE O'CONNOR and Ian Austin, The Province November 17, 2011
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According to Joe Wilson, President and CEO Sonitrol, retail security shows that grocery thefts are on the increase in Surrey
Photograph by: Les Bazso, PNG
Struggling British Columbians are shoplifting in increasing numbers as wages stagnate and unemployment ranks swell, a security expert said Wednesday.
Students with backpacks, mothers with strollers and senior citizens with canes — Joe Wilson is seeing a whole new breed of grocerty shoplifter.
“Generally they are people who wouldn’t have stolen in the past,” said Wilson, who works for Sonitrol. “They aren’t stealing it to sell, they are stealing it to live.”
Wilson says retail losses have risen about six per cent over the year. Small, expensive products are the most targeted.
“The cost of meat and cheese are skyrocketing, and they are small so they are an easy thing to hide,” said Wilson, whose company provides security for retailers such as Costco, Canadian Tire and Canadian grocery chains.
“The other thing that is a huge issue is razor blades.”
Wilson sees no quick end to the trend, which he said is “dependent upon the economy and employment. As those drop and inflation goes up, this will continue to increase and get worse.”
“Wages are staying consistent or dropping, and unemployment is increasing, and people are justifying these thefts as a victimless crime.”
In October, Statistics Canada’s Consumer Price Index showed general food prices rose 4.3 per cent on a year-over-year basis in September of this year.
Prices for food purchased in stores had a five-per-cent spike in August alone, and overall Sept. 2010 to Sept. 2011 grocery prices increased 4.8 per cent in that period, according to StatsCan.
As with other sectors, theft is often a so-called “inside job.”
“The folks that are stealing are predominantly employees because they have the opportunity to do it undetected,” Wilson said.
“For meat and cheese they [employees] are actually shrink-wrapping the product and placing it out in the Dumpster for a conspirator to pick up.”
The fastest increase in items in our carts these days are for the basics: fresh vegetable prices shot up 13 per cent during the year, bakery products increased 7.2 per cent and meat rose 6.1 per cent, according to the national statistics agency.
To combat the issue, Wilson said, CCTV cameras with monitors displayed in public places where both employees and other customers can see someone stealing are the best defence, in concert with anti-shoplifting signs and warnings. Placing valuable, oft-stolen products behind counters or in highly visible, high-traffic areas can also help.
According to a global survey from the U.K.’s Centre for Retail Research, the most commonly stolen grocery items in North America are, in order: fresh meat, candy and chocolate, infant formula, alcohol, luxury cooked meats, cheese, high-quality seafood and fish, and spices.
The costs of retail crime and loss prevention efforts are ultimately borne by customers, for an average cost of $199 per family, the retail report noted.
Several incidents of grocery theft in B.C. have made it into the media in recent years, as police are catching suspects stealing staples.
In Nanaimo this September, a Superette Foods grocery clerk was threatened with scissors by a man who stole a $3 energy drink.
In June, a man stole a woman’s groceries at knifepoint in broad daylight as she walked home from shopping near Fraser Highway and 265A Street in Aldergrove.
A Maple Ridge man was arrested in March for stealing meat and cosmetics from a Save-On-Foods store at Valley Fair Mall after a loss-prevention officer spotted him.
A Tsawwassen shoplifter was caught on a local bus headed to Ladner after nicking several packages of meat in January.
Another incident in Maple Ridge saw police called to a grocery store after a man tried to leave without paying for $120 worth of groceries last November.
In Richmond, police went so far as to put an alert out for a shoplifter who hit an Ironwood Save-On-Foods last October.
And last May, a female shopper at a Mac’s convenience store in Chilliwack bear-sprayed a clerk in order to steal food, but was tackled by other shoppers and later arrested.
Back in 2009, a Nanaimo man called a “serial shoplifter” in court almost went to jail for stealing a block of cheese worth over $130 from a Save-On-Foods.