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Can Store Security & Loss Prevention Make NJ Shoplifting Arrests?

April 9, 2020

Have you been charged with shoplifting in New Jersey? There are a few things that you should know about Nj shoplifting arrests and the law. Knowledge of the law can be the deciding factor when it comes to your case. Especially understanding the powers that a loss prevention or store security associate has. I am a defense attorney and former prosecutor.

I have handled hundreds of shoplifting cases defending client’s against shoplifting arrests. Many of these occurred in Walmart, Home Depot, Kohls, Target, and many of the shopping malls in New Jersey. These include the Freehold Raceway Mall, Woodbridge Center Mall, and Quakerbridge. This includes cases where store employees themselves have been charged and outside individuals.

What is loss prevention?

Retail stores and other private companies hire loss prevention associates in order to protect their inventory and assets. “Loss prevention” and “store security” are terms that can be used interchangeably. The terminology changes based on employer rather than job duties involved. Can Security & Loss Prevention Make NJ Shoplifting Arrests?

It is the responsibility of the loss prevention associate to monitor shoppers and screen for suspicious behavior. Their focus is on preventing shoplifting and outright theft. The term “loss prevention” is emblematic of the position’s larger role. Preventing the loss of merchandise and profits, also known as “shrinkage.” 

Loss prevention associates often dress in plain clothes. Meaning that they don’t wear any identifying uniform or markings so as to blend in with other shoppers. This allows them to monitor potential shoplifters up close and catch them “red handed” so to speak. Loss prevention associates use this technique in conjunction with closed circuit security cameras to canvas the store and determine points of risk. 

The store itself may employ other anti-theft measures such as electronic sensors or ink tags on merchandise and door alarms. Another component of loss prevention is researching transactions including purchases and returns in an attempt to locate instances of potential fraud.  

Can Store Security Arrest you for Shoplifting in NJ?

The short answer is “no.” But that doesn’t mean that loss prevention or store security personnel are powerless either. 

Loss prevention associates have the right to confront people that they suspect of shoplifting. Most store security personnel are patient and spend an ample amount of time viewing the suspected shoplifter. This is done via security camera or by direct observation in order to be reasonably sure that they are committing a crime before confronting them. 

After confronting the shoplifter, the loss prevention associate also has the right to detain that individual until the police arrive. During that time, the loss prevention officer will likely search the suspected shoplifter. This is done in order to ascertain the amount of merchandise that they took. The store officer is allowed to search any bags or purses that the suspect may be carrying. They may also search the suspect’s pockets and over their clothes. However, they are not allowed to strip search a suspect as this can be construed as a sexual assault in some cases. 

More or less, a loss prevention officer has many of the same powers that a police officer has. They can make an in-store arrest, and they can sign off on the complaint. However there are a few key differences. Retail security is not allowed to carry a weapon or handcuffs. Additionally, they are not allowed to serve warrants on people. But when it comes to on-site detention, they function in the same capacity as a police officer. 

To that effect, a store loss prevention associate making complaint against a shoplifter should show up for the court hearing the same as a police officer woud. If they fail to show, there is a greater chance that the case may be dismissed.   

What are the penalties for shoplifting in NJ?

As with any crime, there are different levels of infraction when it comes to shoplifting. The rule of thumb is the greater the value of the merchandise the more severe the punishment

It’s useful to define what exactly constitutes shoplifting, however. Shoplifting is any action that carries intent not to pay for merchandise or otherwise alter its selling price. The key is the intent. That means that a shoplifter doesn’t have to leave the store before being confronted by loss prevention. All they have to do is conceal an item or alter a price tag. 

The punishment for shoplifting is typically comprised of two components: jail time and restitution. For first time offenses where the value of the item(s) taken is less than $200 dollars, possible jail time is no more than 10 days. However, the retailer has the right to seek monetary compensation and court costs which can be more damaging than jail time. 

In total, there are 4 degrees of shoplifting charges. The previously mentioned scenario is considered a disorderly persons offense. A 4th degree charge is any item(s) valued between $200 and $500 dollars. It carries with it a penalty of up to 18 months in jail and a $10,000 fine. A 3rd degree charge stems from merchandise between $500 and $75,000 dollars in value and results in a 3-5 year jail sentence on top of restitution which can equal $15,000. A second degree charge is for any instance of shoplifting over $75,000 and can result in up to 10 years in prison and a $150,000 fine. 

What can you do to protect yourself if you’re arrested?

If you’ve been accused of shoplifting, there are some key things to keep in mind. For starters, never struggle with the arresting loss prevention officer, and don’t try to run away either. These actions can result in additional charges such as theft or assault being added. Both of these charges carry much stricter penalties than a lone shoplifting charge. 

While it is important to remain compliant and calm if you are caught shoplifting, as with any other crime, it is always in your best interest to remain quiet and avoid making any statement regarding your innocence or guilt. If you are given any forms by the loss prevention associate, do not sign them. Some retail chains employ duplicitous tactics. They may tell you that by signing their form you will be free to go, when in reality it is an admission of guilt. 

Your best course of action is to refrain from saying, signing, or doing anything that may constitute an admission of guilt. It is wise to involve legal counsel early in the process and as soon as you can. By remaining calm and enlisting professional help at the outset, you contribute greatly to your chances of a favorable outcome in the courtroom. 

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