Tuesday, December 6, 2022
Dec. 6, 2022

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Losses add up as Clark County businesses deal with surge in shoplifting

By , Columbian staff writer
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Jullienne Adams of LiquidNation Liquidators looks over a sign posted in the front door that discourages shoplifting. Retail thefts are up this year compared to last year, according to the Vancouver Police Department.
Jullienne Adams of LiquidNation Liquidators looks over a sign posted in the front door that discourages shoplifting. Retail thefts are up this year compared to last year, according to the Vancouver Police Department. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

As owner of LiquidNation Liquidator in central Vancouver, Jullienne Adams has seen her share of mysteriously empty boxes and items turning up missing during inventory.

But about a year ago, her struggle with shoplifters took a turn for the worse.

“One of the biggest things we had was the smash and grab, where they smashed our front window and took our electric bikes,” said Adams.

“That was the most guttural and shocking,” said Adams. She lost more than $10,000 that day.

Adams’ business at 717 Grand Blvd. in Vancouver is a small, family-owned operation. She isn’t backed by insurance or big banks. So, she began putting signs up all over the store saying just that.

“It will destroy me, if you shoplift,” she said.

Theft rates up

Retail thefts and shoplifting are up over last year, according to data from the Vancouver Police Department.

“Although numbers are significantly higher this year than last, we are on a downward trend that we hope continues,” said Kim Kapp, police spokeswoman. The police department “has conducted retail theft enforcement emphases, and additional emphases to reduce these crimes that are planned.”

The Clark County Sheriff’s Office data also shows a significant increase in reports of shoplifting and thefts with a shoplifting charge. Between Sept. 1, 2018, and Aug. 31, 2019, there were 116 reports with the department. There were 204 between Sept. 1, 2021, and Aug. 31, 2022.

Even these numbers don’t give a full picture of the problem, said Sgt. Christopher Skidmore, public information officer for the department.

“Many shoplifting calls to 911 come from other citizens and not from stores directly,” said Skidmore. “Sometimes, we don’t respond to these if we are on other calls, there is limited identifying information or the suspects had already left,” Skidmore said. “Also, many stores won’t seek to prosecute shoplifting, so we won’t take a report in those cases, and other stores only will if a loss prevention employee is on duty at the time.”

Skidmore said the increased thefts seem to be happening as so many businesses are struggling with staffing.

Armed security

At the Target at Cascade Station in Portland, patrons can see a security SUV parked outside the store with the words International Protective Service printed on the side.

Inside the store, there are indications it has struggled with theft. In the tooth care aisle, the shelves that once held electric toothbrushes are empty. In their place sits a sign directing those interested in buying one to acquire it from staff. After checking out, customers walk past an armed security guard standing in front of the door.

Jeffery Temple, director of corporate affairs for Fred Meyer, said the company has seen a significant increase in shoplifting, organized retail theft and other crimes over the past few years. He said the company had seen the largest concentration of increased shoplifting and organized retail theft along the Interstate 5 corridor, mostly around Portland and Seattle.

Temple said Fred Meyer has been partnering with law enforcement to place off-duty officers in its stores.

The partnership has “had some impact upon the shoplifting and (organized retail theft) issues,” said Temple. “These locations still experience thefts, but they are minimized by the officer presence.”

Temple said Fred Meyer has also increased its investments in security measures.

“We are requesting help from state and local governments and authorities,” he added.

Shopping cart and basket thefts have been an ongoing problem, Temple said.

“We are continuing efforts to try and mitigate this issue,” he said. Fred Meyer is working with folks to help retrieve the carts that have been taken from their stores.

Not all shoplifters are caught and charged, said Temple.

“We do work with law enforcement (organized retail theft) investigators to try to identify and apprehend repeat offenders,” he told The Columbian.

Fred Meyer also works closely with other retailers and district attorneys and is pursuing statewide organized retail theft coalitions in the Northwest.

Washington has such an alliance, the Washington Organized Retail Crime Association.

The organization was founded in April 2021 to foster “partnerships between law enforcement professionals and loss preventions professionals to provide training, combat organized retail crime and other crimes impacting the business community,” reads its website. “The partnership will aid in the sharing of cross-jurisdictional information to help identify, disrupt and apprehend (organized retail crime) suspects in Washington and other states.”

Options are fewer for smaller businesses like LiquidNation, but Adams said the signs have helped a little.

Adams has paid for everything in her shop, hoping that someone will want it. An item stolen translates into a loss for her and a good that can’t be sold to customers.

“It will put us under if it continues,” Adams said.

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