Shoplifter Detention and Use of Force – Proper Methods to Detain a Thief

July 4, 2007

Each year shoplifting incidents are estimated to cost retail merchants in the United States well over $12 billion in losses. Since most retail stores operate on very narrow profit margins, those shoplifting losses can mean the difference between profit, loss and even bankruptcy.

Merchants sometimes use store detectives or security personnel in an effort to curb shoplifting losses. Most of the security personnel come armed with the standard arsenal of security equipment such as pepper spray, batons, stun guns, hand cuffs, etc. Unfortunately, some merchants, their employees, and any security personnel (in-house or contract) are untrained, or under-trained in the proper handling of shoplifting incidents. As a result, often store employees or security personnel take actions or make mistakes that lead to increasingly large legal liabilities and negative publicity for their employer, and sometimes personally for themselves.

In May 1999, the International Association of Professional Security Consultants (IAPSC) issued the first in a series of Best Practices dealing with various security issues. The best practices meld together the best practices employed by industry leaders with those recommended by independent security experts. The results were then peer-reviewed by others within the industry. Part of that first best practice, titled Detaining Shoplifting Suspects, is reproduced here (with permission):

Detaining Shoplifting Suspects

Definition: As used [herein], the term “security person(s)” is intended to include only store proprietors and managers, store plainclothes security agents sometimes called “detectives,” and uniformed security officers also called security guards (either proprietary or contract). The term does not include sales clerks, maintenance persons, or stockers, for examples. The term “security person(s)” is not intended to apply to off-duty public law enforcement or special police personnel unless they have been instructed by store management to follow the same procedures required of ordinary citizens, which procedures do not include police powers of arrest.

In almost all jurisdictions in the United States, merchants are legally empowered to detain shoplifting suspects for investigation and possible arrest and prosecution in the criminal justice system. This power is called “merchant’s privilege.”

  • The merchant’s privilege provides for detention of persons suspected of shoplifting only when probable cause or reasonable cause exists to believe a person has committed theft. The best practice for establishing this probable cause (as compared to any legal standard) is the security person’s having met all the following six steps: (1) observe the customer approach the merchandise, (2) observe the customer select the merchandise, (3) observe the customer conceal (or otherwise carry away) the merchandise, (4) keep the customer under constant and uninterrupted observation, (5) see the customer fail to pay for the merchandise, and (6) detain the customer outside the store.
  • The merchant’s privilege permits detention for limited purposes which vary by state. Common among these limited purposes are: (1) ascertaining that stolen merchandise is possessed by the suspect, (2) identifying the suspect, (3) investigating the alleged theft, (4) recovering stolen merchandise, and (5) notifying the police of the offense. Some states permit limited searches of the suspect, some states limit the extent to which identity may be established; and the use of force which can legally be used is, if mentioned, always non-deadly. Many company or store policies further restrict permissible actions in dealing with shoplifting suspects; e.g., prohibiting pursuing suspects beyond company property.

In some circumstances shoplifting suspects are treated incorrectly by store management and security persons. Such treatment may cause results varying from simple mistakes to the violation of civil rights of suspects. If a best practice is not used, it is better not to detain a suspect than to risk the high cost of a civil liability suit. Two kinds of questionable detentions will illustrate this point. One kind applies to the customer who is truly an innocent party but whose conduct, for any number of reasons, led the security person to believe that a theft had occurred. People in this kind of detention are innocent victims of circumstance. The other kind applies to the customer who is not truly an innocent party, but for any number of reasons is not in possession of stolen merchandise when stopped by a security person.

Security persons usually do not actually “arrest” shoplifters, but simply detain them for police authorities. Exceptions arise to this practice in those states where private persons’ arrest powers exist concurrent with but separate from the “privilege” statutes discussed above. In these exceptional cases, security persons arrest after proof of the offense of theft.

Security persons cannot look into the minds of suspects. Security persons can only observe actions of suspects and completely and accurately report such actions. It is up to a judge or trier of fact to determine intent to deprive a merchant permanently of a taken item …. Step number 6 [detaining the customer outside the store] exists to help the judge or trier of fact determine the intent of the customer because the cash registers inside a store are normally the last place a person would have to pay for an item before departing a store. Reports by security persons are normally detailed enough to include other observations which would tend to establish intent.

The International Association of Professional Security Consultants, Inc. (IAPSC) has examined the methods of detaining suspects recommended by security professionals and practiced by merchants throughout the United States. IAPSC sets forth below what it believes to be the best practices.

Best Practices

  • Practice. Security persons using best practices detain a suspect only if they have personally seen the suspect approach the merchandise.
    Rationale. The suspect may have entered the store with the merchandise already in hand or otherwise on or about their person (say, in a shopping bag or purse).
  • Practice. Security persons using best practices detain a suspect only if they have personally observed the suspect select or take possession of, or conceal the merchandise.
    Rationale. Security persons trust their own eyes and do not rely on reports by others.
  • Practice. Security persons using best practices detain a suspect only if they have observed the suspect with the merchandise continually from the point of selection to the point where the suspect has gone beyond the last checkout station without paying for the item. If the surveillance has been broken, or if the person has gotten rid of the merchandise, the security person breaks off following for that offense, but may continue surveillance if it appears the suspect may commit theft again.
    Rationale. The suspect may have “ditched” the merchandise or concealed it. By continually observing the suspect, the security person can observe whether or not the suspect still has the merchandise even if it has been concealed on the suspect’s person.
  • Practice. Security persons using best practices detain a suspect outside the store after the suspect has passed the last checkout station and has failed to pay for an item of merchandise. At this point security persons using this best practice immediately investigate to verify or refute a suspect’s claim of innocence. Special care and consideration is exercised when merchandise is displayed for sale outside the store, such as garden supplies, sidewalk sales, etc., or which is displayed for sale inside the store, but beyond the last sales point.
    Rationale. The security person does not do only what is required to meet the minimum requirements of theft laws. The actions of a suspect make it easier to prove intent to deprive the merchant of an item of merchandise. The farther from the actual taking a suspect is detained, the clearer the offense will appear to a judge or trier of fact. The security person is aware of suspects who might claim they were looking for a matching item or looking for someone to give an opinion on the merchandise before it is purchased. A suspect may, however, offer a logical explanation for actions that initially appeared to the security person to be acts of shoplifting, but which may require only a limited investigation to verify the suspect’s explanation.
  • Practice. Security persons using best practices normally do not “chase” suspects by running inside a store or in shopping centers that are occupied by customers. Exceptions occur when necessary, but only in such areas as parking lots, and then only when few people are in the area and it is unlikely a bystander could get hurt. Such foot pursuits never leave the property on which the store is located. If a suspect runs, the best practice is for the security person to make a mental note of the appearance of the suspect and the merchandise that appears to have been taken; then to make a written report for the store’s files.
    Rationale. Running may create more problems than it solves. When a suspect runs and a security person chases that person by also running, clients and employees of the store and store employees are endangered more by the combination of two persons’ running, than by the suspects running alone. Handicapped clients may be knocked off their feet. Wheelchairs may be overturned. Store employees who may intervene to help may be injured by security persons in pursuit, or by running into counters or display devices, or by slipping on polished floors. When clerks leave their posts, they leave their own merchandise exposed to theft. An exception to this best practice may exist when it is necessary to chase a suspect down in order to protect customers and store employees from ongoing violence by the suspect.
  • Practice. Security persons using best practices treat suspects equally and fairly regardless of a suspects race, color, creed, gender, or national origin.
    Rationale. Anecdotal information suggests certain groups have been marked by some store management and security persons for more surveillance and/or more aggressive anti-shoplifting measures. Color, religious or national dress, gender, and “race” are alleged to have been used to identify persons in such groups. However, there is no scientific evidence regarding the validity of such “profiling,” and this practice is avoided by security persons using best practices. Suspicion of shoplifting depends upon observed actions, not appearance. All law-abiding persons have the right to be treated the same as any other person in the marketplace.
  • Practice. Security persons using best practices do not use weapons such as firearms, batons (“nightsticks”), or restraining devices such as thumb cuffs, “come-alongs,” mace, or pepper spray in order to apprehend or detain a shoplifting suspect. Stores using best practices occasionally permit the use of handcuffs by security persons whose training has included instruction in the proper use of handcuffs when necessary to prevent injury to customers or store personnel. Security persons using best practices use handcuffs only when a suspected shoplifter is physically threatening violence or otherwise resisting detention; or there is, in the good judgment of the security person, the risk of imminent serious harm absent their use.
    Rationale. There is no merchandise of such value that it warrants a security person’s injuring a suspect or an innocent customer. Use of weapons and restraining devices except handcuffs should be left to on-duty public law enforcement officers. If it is not possible to get the suspect’s willing cooperation, it is better to let the suspect go free than to risk injuring a suspect or other customer. Risk avoidance is a factor considered in apprehending and detaining suspects. Because handcuffs are restraining devices, they can be painful if improperly applied and can cause injury. Not all persons caught need restraining. Many people caught shoplifting are humiliated by the incident and are cooperative; hence, in such cases restraint is not necessary.
  • Practice. Security persons using best practices limit the use of force to “holding” or “restraining” to effect a detention. Security persons using best practices do not use actions such as striking, tackling, sitting on a suspect’s body, or any other action that might cause physical injury to the suspect.
    Rationale. Use of force is subject to criticism, and assaultive use of force is typically unnecessary and unacceptable in the private sector. However, some holding or restraining may be necessary lest potential thieves learn that by simply resisting they may come and steal with impunity. Use of limited holding or restraining force is sometimes necessary to detain a suspect until police arrive, or to prevent a suspect from injuring security persons. Under no circumstances should the force applied be that which may result in injury or death to a suspect. No merchandise is of such value as to justify physical injury to a suspect. The better practice is to allow the suspect to depart the premises rather than to cause any injury by the use of force in detaining the suspect. Assuming the suspect can be identified, the merchant can file a complaint; then the public police have the option of apprehending the suspect at a later time.

Comments

In addition to the Best Practices listed above, which are the best procedures to use in most circumstances, I also recommend that a minimum of two trained employees be utilized in every suspected shoplifter detainment, also referred to as a “stop.” The best rule of thumb is to use at least one more employee than there are suspected shoplifters. This is not only to ensure the safety of the security personnel, but also to ensure that there is at least one trained witness to what occurs and what is said, from the first moment of the “stop,” until its conclusion.

Where practical, loss prevention personnel should be provided with badge and/or photo-identification card identifying them as security personnel for that store or company. They should display their I.D. card and/or badge when making a stop. Regardless of whether or not they have a badge or card, at the beginning of any stop they should verbally identify themselves as security personnel before doing or saying anything else. (Other store personnel should identify themselves as “store manager” or whatever is appropriate). Grabbing a suspect without warning before identifying themselves, especially if the person is grabbed from the side or from behind, creates a situation that may provoke a violent response from startled persons.

Use of force is the area most likely to lead to lawsuits and to create a bad public image for merchants, damaging their reputation or brand. In the heat of the moment, it is easy for employees or other security or loss prevention personnel to fall into the trap of wanting to catch the thief, and get the merchandise back at all costs! However, self-defense excepted, nothing is so valuable in the store as to risk injury to employees or to customers, or the risk of subsequent bad publicity, and the possibility of a lawsuit for using “excessive” or “unneeded” force.

Likewise, chasing a fleeing shoplifter through the store or parking lot traffic, especially if he or she has already dropped the merchandise, is an invitation for someone to be injured, frequently resulting in a lawsuit against the store or employee. Offensive punching, kicking, tackling, and dragging suspects is always inappropriate and should be prohibited by management. Note that sometimes grabbing a suspect or holding him, including holding him down is necessary for self-defense or defense of others, but such actions should be limited in scope and defensive and holding in nature. Use of force should never exceed the amount of force being used or being attempted by the suspect. Caution and discretion are always the best approach in this area. If management authorizes the use of any more force than simple guiding or touching restraint, (e.g., the use of “come-along” holds, the use of pepper-spray, etc.), the officers should be trained in such tactics by a certified instructor, and that advanced training should be documented. As one government agency frequently states about training, “If it isn’t documented, it didn’t occur.”

Likewise, only security personnel who have been trained and periodically re–trained in their use should be permitted to carry and use handcuffs. Handcuffs have sometimes been used as weapons, and, when improperly applied, they have led to serious injuries and, in some cases, deaths. Reasonable policy dictates that handcuffs are used only to restrain a shoplifter who has used force against the merchant or employee, or otherwise physically resisted detention, or, once detained, has verbally threatened to use force. In every case for which handcuffs are used, their use must be reasonable and justifiable for that particular situation (“reasonable” as in reasonable in the minds of a judge or jury). Caution and discretion are extremely important when using or even displaying handcuffs.

Extra special care and restraint, especially in the areas of use of force, length of detention and the use of handcuffs, should also be exercised whenever dealing with juveniles, or the elderly, or those who are sick, injured, or physically or mentally challenged. If someone is injured or sick, or even claims to be, don’t guess! Immediately call for medical assistance! If the person has I.D., you can always pursue criminal charges later if you wish. If he or she doesn’t have I.D., call the police and tell them you have called for medical assistance for a sick or injured shoplifting suspect whom you are detaining, and you are requesting police assistance. They will usually speed up the police response.

Readers desiring additional information on these or related subjects should contact a qualified professional security consultant and/or their attorney.

Disclaimer:

This article is based on generally accepted security principles, and on data gathered from what are believed to be reliable sources. This article is written for general information purposes only and is not intended to be, and should not be used as, a primary source for making security decisions. Each situation is or can be unique. The author is not an attorney, is not engaged in the practice of law, and is not rendering legal advice. Readers requiring advice about specific security problems or concerns should consult directly with a security professional. The author of this article shall have no liability to any person or entity with respect to any loss, liability, or damage alleged to have been caused by the use or application of any information in this article, nor information contained on this or any linked or related web site.

by R. Witherspoon

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Riot Control Tactics and Crowd Management Techniques

June 11, 2007

Police and military forces are better trained and better equipped to handle crowds that get out of control. In handling riot situations, it is important to know what causes riots, how police approach crowd control problems, and what equipment they use to clear the streets safely.

What Makes a Riot?

First we must understand how a riot develops in the first place. A riot is a crowd that takes aggressive and illegal actions as a reaction to fear or anger. The crowd takes on a mob mindset and does things they normally would not do because the crowd makes them anonymous. Being anonymous and seeing the actions of the others makes them feel like they can damage, burn or harm whatever and whomever they want.

The fuel for a riot builds up over time. In many situations, this can take years or even decades of racial prejudice, unfair treatment or abuse. When people have no effective way of dealing with these issues or bettering their situation, an undercurrent of anger and frustration grows stronger and stronger.

Once the situation is at a breaking point, almost anything can set it off. An incident that angers one group can immediately turn them against another group of people. Sometimes an actual incident isn’t even required and it may just a rumor that spread through a group to turn anger into a violent outburst.

Sports teams losing or winning a major game can sometimes cause riots. In this case, the fuel doesn’t build up for a long time and it’s mainly the result of alcohol. The drunkenness of the crowd contributes heavily to these riots and is simply sparked by the excitement or disappointment.

Riot Control Tactics

The tactics used to control riots in the past were very simple. The success was based on the fact that the police were almost always better armed than the rioters. The tactics they used basically consisted of forming a line and charging into the crowd. The police today are even better armed, but the techniques have advanced significantly and usually prevent the injuries that we have seen in the past.

When a riot is in full swing, police will arrange themselves in a square formation with a command team at the center. The command team is protected on all four sides by echelons of troops deployed in groups of 10 or 12 officers. There is also an arrest team at the center of the square.

This riot control unit is very mobile and can adapt quickly to changes in the mod or situation. If a threat suddenly appears in a different direction, the echelon facing that direction is designated the front of the unit. The entire team can change direction without a lot of reorganizing. The echelons can also cover each other when the team moves to take new positions. If a section is under attack, the whole team does not move together. One echelon moves while the others provide covering fire or an actual physical screen using riot shields. Then another echelon moves up into position.

This layout is not meant to be an impenetrable wall of police. Actually, the riot team leaves an escape route to let rioters run past. The officers can take a passive stance by spreading out and leaving a large opening between each officer. The crowd can then easily filter through them. If an overly violent person or group moves toward the officers, they can immediately close the gaps and form a tight line.

As the officers move forward into a crowd, they push at anyone who doesn’t respond to verbal requests to move away by. If they still refuse to move, the unit continues moving forward, but the front line opens up and passes around the protesters. Once the specific people are inside the square, the unit stops and the arrest team processes the rioters. The front line closes and the unit can continue moving.

Riot Control Technology

When crowd control units get ready to engage, the first thing required is protective gear. The full outfit typically consists of:

* Helmet with face shield
* Body armor
* Large body shield

The body shield and face shield are typically made of a material called Lexan. If thick enough, it can be bullet proof. But in this application, it basically protects against thrown objects or attacks with sticks and similar weapons.

The most basic offensive weapon a riot control officer has is a baton. These are usually between 24 and 42 inches long and are made of various materials. Expandable batons or expanding batons are also used because of their size when closed. They can fit into holsters and worn on the belt similar to handcuffs. There are also batons that are fashioned after stun guns and referrer to as stun batons. Most crowd control units use some type of baton instead of rifles because the presence of guns are likely to escalate any situation. If someone manages to take a gun away from an officer, the results could be disastrous.

If guns are being used, the police typically employ a variety of non-lethal rounds. Although these are not generally considered fatal rounds, anything fired from a gun has the potential to be deadly. But, they are trained to use these weapons in ways that minimize the risk of death or serious injury.

These rounds are commonly fired from a 40mm single shot or multi-round gun. They are similar to military grenade launchers.

Riot Control Rounds

Some of these non-lethal rounds include:

* Blunt-force rounds – These rounds cause pain when they strike, but they don’t penetrate the skin. They are often fired at the ground so the round skips off the pavement and strikes the rioters in the legs. Each round is filled with small discs. When officers skip the rounds off the ground in front of the crowd, they separate and tend to hit multiple rioters. It can cause a lot of pain, but has a lesser chance of doing damage as compared to a solid piece of the material. The objective is to cause enough pain to make the rioter comply with the officers.

* Bean Bag Round – These are square-shaped bean bags that have a long-range but they tend to be inaccurate. There are teardrop-shaped bean bag rounds with a tail that are geared toward accuracy.

* Sponge Round – Bullet-shaped round with a sponge tip. They are all-purpose with average range and accuracy.

* Stinger rounds – A Stinger round is loaded with small, rubber pellets that disperse on impact.

* Pepper ball rounds – A paint ball gun is slightly modified to fire pepper spray pellets instead of paint balls. When these strike someone, the severe burning sensation in the eyes and nose will incapacitate most people without doing permanent harm. When children or elderly people might be present in a crowd, the police can use water pellets instead. It still stings to get hit with water pellets and sometimes people are afraid they have actually been hit with pepper spray, so the crowd disperses.

* Aerosol grenades – These are metal canisters that are activated and thrown like regular grenades. They spray tear gas or pepper spray gas over a wide area. Officers rarely throw these directly into a crowd since it can increase panic. They typically use the gas to create a type of barricade to direct the crowd’s movements in a certain direction. A gas grenade might be thrown into the crowd if a particular group is extremely violent or attacking a single victim.

* Ferret rounds – Ferret rounds are made to penetrate windows or wooden barricades, where they can then deposit the gas. These are used to flush people out of barricades and other standoff situations.

* Dye rounds – Sponge rounds, ferret rounds and pepperball rounds can all be filled with marker dye. These are used to mark certain people in a crowd so that other officers can identify them or so that they can be caught later if they leave the scene. In a riot, the leaders are often tagged with marker-dye rounds so the arrest team can pick them up later.

* Gas rounds – These rounds are loaded with a gas that causes severe irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, and even causes contact skin burns in some cases. These most commonly contain pepper spray or tear gas. Officers don’t like to use gas rounds, because they know they’re going to experience some of the effects of the gas themselves. Still, they wear gas masks and goggles to protect themselves in case the need arises.

Crowd Control Prevention

Today’s riot control units are not usually called riot squads anymore; they are crowd-management units. Rather than trying to beat the rioters in battle, the police just try to calm them down and get them to go home. The use even non-lethal force is a last resort.

The first step in crowd management is making sure a riot doesn’t happen in the first place. Although riots can erupt unexpectedly, they are frequently tied to a planned protest or organized demonstration. When the police think a situation could potentially get out of control, they contact the organizers of the protest ahead of time. They set up ground rules that the protesters are to follow and they designate a specific area for the event to take place. The police assign specially trained officers to monitor the event and to ensure that everyone stays safe. The police will only take action if the ground rules are broken.

If the officers disagree with the opinions of the protesters, they are still trained to maintain an unbiased attitude. The officers try not to look at the protesters as enemies. Instead, they recognize that the rioters are part of the same community that the police are entrusted to protect and serve. There is fine balancing act.

Even though police are trained to be polite, they are careful to not give off an impression of subservience. They have to be seen as being in charge and in control at all times, even while they stay passive and allow the crowd to operate within the ground rules set out ahead of time. Occasionally these preventative measures don’t work and a riot breaks out despite police efforts to keep everyone peaceful.

Crowd Control Conflict

If a crowd gets disorderly and starts taking violent action, the police will switch to a more aggressive approach. They understand that most riots are lead by a few individuals who feel strongly or have something to gain from a violent confrontation. The majority of the people are present either because something exciting is going on or they are simply bystanders that get caught up in the mob mentality. The likelihood of arrest or confrontation with police usually prompt them to escape and go home.

The first step is simple intimidation. Riot police stand in strict formations and act with military precision. Once they form the lines of barriers, they tap their batons on their shields or stomp their feet in unison. The result can be quite intimidating to unarmed civilians. It can appear that the group is getting ready to attack. In reality, this display is meant to scare off as many of the rioters as possible without the officers ever getting near them.

Police do not try to arrest every person in the riot. Their first targets are those who are leading the riot because the crowd will often disperse without their leaders encouraging them. Everyone seen breaking a law are also targeted for arrest, especially if they injure someone.

When the officers are actually in conflict with the rioters, the objective is still to disperse the crowd. A combination of advancing lines of officers and the use of gas is used to move the crowd in a particular direction. The crowd is never pinned down and always given an escape route. The main purpose of the crowd management team is to get the people to disperse.