As the holiday shopping season reaches its peak, so does shoplifting. And while much of the Black Friday coverage you’ll read this year will cover the spectacular deals or the inevitably of stampedes, we’ve taken a moment to discuss the businesses on the receiving end of said stampedes and how they should approach loss prevention.
MySecuritySign spoke to King Rogers, CEO of The King Rogers Group, about how businesses can curb shoplifting and what consumers should know about retail surveillance.* Rogers retired as Vice President of Assets Protection for Target Corporation in 2001 after 18 years with the company. Prior to that, he spent 14 years as Director of Assets Protection for a regional retailer in the Philadelphia area. At The King Rogers Group, he calls on his decades of industry experience to provide loss prevention and security consulting.
The efficacy of security cameras
MySecuritySign: When you post a sign saying that there are cameras in a shop, how does that affect loss prevention? Do you think that it’s an effective way of deterring criminal behavior or do you feel like it does more harm than good?
[pullquote]Thieves are going to steal anyway. They don’t believe in signs. [/pullquote]Rogers: I don’t think that the overriding purpose of posting a sign in the interior of a retail establishment [stating] that video surveillance is taking place is to be a deterrent to thieves. Thieves are going to steal anyway. They don’t believe in signs. What it’s really intended to be is a legal defense for the retailer. Frequently local statutes would require that retailers or any commercial establishment utilizing camera surveillance, video surveillance, post that information [making] it available to the general public.
MySecuritySign: So I would imagine that means that your process is very localized, that you have to kind of customize what you can do as loss prevention consultants on an almost city by city basis. Do you find that to be the case?
Rogers: Absolutely. Really, you have to know the local statutes, not only for posting communications but also for actual apprehension of thieves in the store. Some states allow you to actually detain somebody as soon as they conceal merchandise that they have removed from the shelf on the selling floor and other states require you to let that individual get past the last point of purchase opportunity so you really have to customize your programs to fit the statutes.
When cameras are most useful
MySecuritySign: Just to change tracks a little bit, do you find that cameras are more useful when you’re surveilling customers or employees? Is it maybe useful for one but useless for the other, or do you find cameras to be equally useful when tracking both groups?
Rogers: Well, there’s certainly a reason to be able to use cameras effectively in the case of surveilling external influences, but I think that the cameras are most effective when they’re being used to surveil internal situations.
MySecuritySign: Can you explain why that is?
Rogers: Well, when you’re surveilling retail activity on the selling floor and you’re using a series of camera systems to be able to do that, you have to have experienced camera operators who know where the next camera is to pick up the individual to start capturing that image from the image captured by the previous camera when they move from place to place within the store.
The rule is that you cannot lose observation even for a split second of anybody you suspect has or anybody you have seen take items and coupled with their behaviors you think they are going to try to leave the store without paying for the items. By maintaining continuous observation, you’re able to prove the fact that they did not ditch that merchandise. Store security responds in a way in which they stop the individual to detain them and yet there’s no merchandise on them. That is a potential civil liability that the retailer faces.
However, for video surveillance for external purposes, it can be great for identification purposes if the camera systems are designed in such a way as to be effective in the identification of the individuals. When you talk about facial recognition, there’s facial identification and then facial recognition. Identification simply says that I can identify this individual by his looks. Recognition means I’ve got a database that I can then take that facial identification and compare that image against and come up with a likelihood as to who that individual could be.
How privacy laws affect loss prevention
MySecuritySign: When you talk about how signage is generally a response to local regulations, it sounds like privacy is something that you’d have to confront as an issue whenever you have a new client. Can you talk a little bit about how privacy law has changed in the loss prevention setting over the course of your career?
Rogers: That’s an interesting question. As I think back, oh, I’d say 30 years ago, I’m not sure that the privacy laws held the level of attention 30 years ago that they possibly do today. Now with that said, because of the ubiquity of the deployment of CCTV cameras in commercial establishments around the country and around the world, I think the general public is not only more accustomed to knowing that they could be under video surveillance, but I think they’re more accepting of that. and actually they’ve come to rely on the benefits of that video security surveillance because the benefits include great evidentiary information regarding an incident that they may have been a victim to.
MySecuritySign: There have been a lot of studies done on camera surveillance, and it seemed to be something that the ACLU concerned itself with to a great extent and a lot of non-profits and people who are concerned about privacy wrote a lot about. There was a lot of ink spilled over camera surveillance until around 9/11. Did you find that there was a marked change around that period? Do you think that 9/11 has affected the way people approach camera surveillance?
Rogers: You know, I hadn’t thought about that but I’m sure that 9/11 had a great impact on it. Go to your local airport and look at what you have to go through just to get on board the airplane. If you look up, and most passengers don’t, you will see literally hundreds of video cameras overt but in covert housings so you really don’t know what’s being used and what’s not.
MySecuritySign: I’m going to go back to privacy for just one second. Do you find that the public’s concerns about being monitored through cameras, whether they’re being actively monitored or simply archived, do you think that there’s a context where public concern’s appropriate? That is to say, do you ever find that privacy is something that the public should be concerned about in the retail context or do you think that those concerns are mostly overstated or misunderstood?
[pullquote]In reality, less than 2 percent of the images captured by those 50 million cameras are actually used and actually provide the owner of the camera with any value return on investment.[/pullquote]
Rogers: I think it’s really the latter. I don’t think that most of the public really cares in all honesty. As I mentioned before, there are about 50 million cameras 20 million cameras deployed in the United States alone in commercial and non-commercial applications. In reality, less than 2 percent of the images captured by those 50 million cameras are actually used and actually provide the owner of the camera with any value return on investment.
What you should know about facial recognition technology
MySecuritySign: Do you find yourselves using facial recognition and high-def cameras to enhance your practice?
Rogers: Facial recognition, in my opinion – and this is strictly that, it’s my opinion – while it shows promise, still has a long way to go. It’s not where it ultimately needs to be to become as reliable as I would like to see it. So I tend to only experiment with facial recognition at this point, rather than to actually use it in practice. Now I know some retailers are using it and they claim to be using it very successfully but I’m always cautious that there could be false positives involved in the facial recognition piece and I’d rather operate on a smoking gun basis so that if I’m going to react to an incident, I’ve got the evidence to support my reaction.
MySecuritySign: Does that imply that you find the cameras most useful after the fact, rather than as a sort of early warning system?
Rogers: Yeah, there really are two types of businesses that I think we’re talking about here. One I will call “video surveillance as a service” and that is distinguished by being real-time and really requiring 24-7 central station operation. The other is audits and analytics as a service and, again, both of these are third-party provided services. But we believe that utilizing archived video for analysis and auditing purposes is far more effective than using real-time video, particularly for the applications that I’m talking about relative to point-of-sale.
If you do it real-time, that means you’ve got to have somebody on-site to be able to respond to whatever it is that you detect on a real-time basis. If you do it on an archived basis, then it gives you the luxury, if you will, of being able to review in detail those exceptions and absolutely confirm what you suspect when you review the video details and then you’ve got the evidence that you may need to have in the case of litigation.
MySecuritySign: Earlier you mentioned facial recognition. You just said it wasn’t there yet but you see potential. What potential applications do you see in the retail environment?
Rogers: Well, contrary to the way some of my colleagues and former colleagues feel about facial recognition, I think that facial recognition can be effective to identify members of organized retail crime after they have already been apprehended and are being detained in the security office of the retailer while the police are either en route or are there. Because if you’ve got a database of the offender, photographs or video images, it’s going to help the police identify this individual as likely being someone who has been picked up for the same type of crime in other retailers at different times. That’s kind of after the fact and it’s for adjudication purposes.
If you were to use facial recognition to try to identify a bad guy entering the store, it is clearly not there yet, the reliability of facial recognition for that application. And if you’re going to rely on it to respond to somebody coming into the store, you could be opening yourself wide open to a civil litigation. Now, as an old retailer, I can certainly understand the benefit of trying to do that even though the technology is not yet where it needs to be to be reliable. But if you’re going to do that, why not develop a positive database that identifies the good customer when they come in and allows your staff to be alerted to just smother that good customer with service? Oh, and by the way, what does the staff do when the bad guy comes in? Same thing, smother them with service.
MySecuritySign: Interesting. “Welcome back to the store Mr. Rogers. Good to see you.”
Rogers: Exactly right.
How the thieves think
MySecuritySign: Do you find that thieves’ M.O.’s have changed a lot in response to techniques like the one you just described or is it the kind of thing where by the time you learn the lesson it’s too late?
Rogers: First of all, the bad guy stays up later at night than we do and when they’re staying up, they’re figuring out ways to circumvent the prevention techniques that we spent all day designing and perfecting so game’s on for the next day where they’re going to challenge what we have worked all day the previous day putting together.[pullquote]First of all, the bad guy stays up later at night than we do and when they’re staying up, they’re figuring out ways to circumvent the prevention techniques that we spent all day designing and perfecting so game’s on for the next day where they’re going to challenge what we have worked all day the previous day putting together.[/pullquote]
Yes, they change a lot and I’ll give you an example. I’m sure you’ve heard of the phenomenon that’s very popular to discuss these days about organized retail crime? It’s been around for a long time, actually. But there are more people doing it and the reason that there are is because, from a risk/reward standpoint, it’s very low risk, very high reward, and it’s easy to do. Although with federal statutes and state statutes that define organized retail crime and these statutes up the penalties. If you’re caught engaging in organized retail crime, it’s still a relatively risk-free type of activity. So there are more professionals out there who are engaged in stealing from retailers every single day. That’s their job, to get up in the morning and when they go to work they go steal $5,000, $6,000, $7,000 at retail a day and it can be very lucrative.
From a video surveillance standpoint, they will walk into a store and they will see what are probably camera housings throughout the ceiling in the retail store. They know that some of those may very well be just dummy domes and contain no cameras in them at all. The other thing that they bank on is the fact that, while there could be cameras there, nobody’s watching them. The use of camera domes in the ceiling is not a significant deterrent to a professional thief. What is a deterrent though is a combination of video surveillance and public view monitoring.
Here’s what I mean by that. In interviews with profession thieves over the last couple of years, when you ask about the effectiveness of video surveillance, they pretty much scoff at it until you ask about the effectiveness of the public view monitoring. Public view monitoring is where you’ve got a flat screen monitor located in a specific location. It could be a high-risk item merchandising location. And what deters the professional from stealing those items in that location is the fact that they know that somebody else could very well see them steal it, even if it’s just another customer, and they don’t want to be identified by anyone in the course of their theft act.
How increased signage can affect retail safety
MySecuritySign: I have one more question before we go. Just to reintroduce the signage angle, is there any way that you think retailers could make more effective use of camera surveillance signage? Is there any place that you feel like they’re dropping the ball sign-wise?
Rogers: Well, I would have signage at all the entrances of every store in my chain indicating that this establishment does use video surveillance and you have to be careful with your verbiage on that. You don’t want to state “for the protection of our customers” because then there is an assumption that the customer is going to be safe while in that store. You just simply want to state that the establishment uses video cameras.
Parking lots are a different matter. You still want to state that there are video cameras surveilling the parking lots but, again, you have to word so that you don’t give that customer the false pretense that they’re going to be protected from any incident while they’re on that parking lot just because of the fact that there’s video surveillance.
Those signs are more of a deterrent to somebody who can read English, if they’re printed in English, and cares when their intent is to break into automobiles in the parking lot and steal personal belongings that, unfortunately, for the most part, are in plain view if you just look through the window. So really the sign should say something to the effect that, “Do not leave your personal belongings of value in plain view,” and then provide some sort of a caveat which states that the owner of the parking lot is not responsible for security incidents that occur as a result of your negligence.
MySecuritySign: Right. It sounds like you think that signs are most effective in addressing crimes of opportunity.
Rogers: Yeah, I’d say that’s safe.
MySecuritySign: All right. Thanks so much, King.
Rogers: You’re welcome. Have a good day.
*Transcript edited for length and readability.