Exchange takes steps to stop shoplifters
February 14, 2013
FORT BENNING, Ga. (Feb. 13, 2013) -- While the Exchange and other on-post shopping options are here to serve Soldiers and their Families, some people try to take advantage of these businesses through shoplifting and theft.
The Army and Air Force Exchange Service combats attempted thefts through its loss prevention division, which is led at Fort Benning by Bill Dixon, area loss prevention manager.
Dixon said while many may think of military installations as crime-free, that is not the case.
"There's a misconception that the military installation is safe and perfect and there's no crime, but the reality is that it's a city just like any other city," Dixon said. "There are the same things going on on-post as there are off-post. We just have a different way of dealing with it on-post."
In 2012, 95 individuals were arrested for shoplifting at Fort Benning, including 38 spouses of active-duty Soldiers, 23 unauthorized civilians, 20 active-duty Soldiers, eight civilians and six juveniles.
In the past, loss prevention efforts have focused on juveniles, which has led to a steady decline in instances of juvenile theft on-post. However, spouses of Soldiers have now become the largest area of concern for AAFES.
"The issue with the spouses is something that's kind of new to us," Dixon said. "Recently, I went to a meeting and spoke specifically to the spouses about shoplifting. We just wanted to educate them on what happens."
AAFES routinely focuses on educating the younger members of the community on the dangers of shoplifting, an effort that Dixon said is key to curtailing the problem in the long-term.
"The more we educate the younger people, the more difference we can make," Dixon said. "The people who are older than 30 and are still stealing are the ones I don't think too much can be done about. But, if we can catch those who are 18 to 25 and just show them what can happen to them, I think we can cut down on shoplifting."
There are several consequences for shoplifting on post, which can include the potential for arrest or a $200 civil recovery fine. Soldiers caught stealing can be demoted or face a court-martial, and Family members caught stealing could be barred from Fort Benning.
Dixon said the loss prevention team uses a variety of tools to catch shoplifters, not the least of which is the surveillance camera system in place at all AAFES locations.
The cameras, which have the ability to rotate 360 degrees and zoom 300-400 yards, can be controlled remotely from a central control room, and can be used to identify suspects after a theft has occurred.
"If a Soldier steals something of value, we're going to collect that amount if we identify them," Dixon said. "Once we identify the Soldier and send the commander a notification of the damages, generally the commander will order the Soldier to pay the damages owed. After 90 days, the complaint will go to a collections department at headquarters, and if the Soldier is active duty, then it will go to the Treasury office, who will just automatically take it out of their wages."
Outside of Soldiers and their Families, AAFES has also seen a growth in thefts by unauthorized civilian shoppers.
"I think that's because it's a little easier to get on post now," Dixon said. "But that isn't the entire reason. Sometimes authorized shoppers will bring unauthorized shoppers in, and they'll do some things they shouldn't be doing. The thing that hurts us is when an unauthorized person comes in and steals, it's harder to recover it, and if there's damage to the merchandise, we generally lose that investment instead of getting the money back."
The loss prevention team keeps an eye on trends in retail theft, helping it to identify those products that might be targeted more frequently.
"We don't watch people, we watch merchandise," Dixon said. "Whatever the popular item is on the street right now, we know that. We have access to those statitstics. When people pick that merchandise up, generally if they don't throw it into a shopping cart, we keep a close eye on it."
Once those frequently stolen products are identified, steps can be taken to limit the opportunity for theft.
Video game thefts, for example, were once an area of concern for AAFES, but have now been almost entirely eliminated.
"Just last year, we put what we call game keepers, which are thick plastic boxes with a magnetic strip, on the video games," Dixon said. "We went from losing $800-900 worth of games per month to losing nothing. The boxes cost $10 each, but they've already paid for themselves."
Loss prevention is not the only department concerned with preventing shoplifting.
Vincent James, general manager of the local Exchange, said employees are trained to engage customers verbally, something that helps to not only provide quality customer service, but also to serve as a shoplifting deterrent.
"We have a 10-foot rule, where when a customer comes within 10 feet of an associate, the associate is supposed to acknowledge the customer," James said. "That helps prevent shoplifting because if someone is thinking about shoplifting, it helps to plant the idea that we're watching them."
While shoplifting is a concern for AAFES, it is not the only loss prevention issue that it faces. Employee theft and fraud have also been problems in the past, Dixon said.
"We've had some bad apples that we've hired, but we've always made it right with our customers as soon as we discovered something was going on," he said. "There's not a company out there that hasn't had a bad employee, but we do whatever we can to make it right when that does happen."