FORT BENNING, GA - Theft involving juveniles at the Post Exchange has increased in the past year, and officials said they're beefing up educational efforts in an attempt to reverse the trend.

Since mid-September 2008, the Army and Air Force Exchange Service at Fort Benning has documented 139 shoplifting cases, including 62 linked to youth ages 12-18, said Traci Tucker, the organization's loss prevention manager. A total of 62 from the same age group were caught stealing in all of 2008, up from 20 in 2007.

CPT Joseph LaBranche, operations officer for the Fort Benning provost marshal's office, said there have been 57 larcenies committed this year by juveniles ages 10-17. That reflects incidents at the PX and theft of private property in military housing, he said.

"Within the amount of juvenile crime that we do have, 38 percent is juvenile shoplifting," LaBranche said. "The highest number of offenders would be in the 17 age bracket, accounting for 26 percent of basic larceny crimes among juveniles."

Since last September, Tucker said AAFES has lost almost $11,700 in stolen merchandise at the PX.

Xbox 360 and PlayStation video games, electronics and portable audio players are always among the top items being lifted, she said. Female juveniles tend to go for clothing, cosmetics and jewelry.

AAFES has safeguards in place to discourage shoplifting, ranging from electronic video surveillance to undercover store detectives who blend in with customers.

Tucker said AAFES makes efforts to deter shoplifting and reduce the temptation through community awareness events and school visits to the PX.

"We show them our loss prevention room that has the cameras and video surveillance equipment in it," she said. "We tell them about the shoplifting process, and what will happen if they get caught."

AAFES loss prevention officials detain all shoplifting suspects and notify military police, she said.
LaBranche said the Directorate of Emergency Services incorporates a message about shoplifting through the DARE program at the middle school level.

"We expect juveniles to be good citizens of the installation," he said. "They need to ensure they respect the rules and laws, and demonstrate responsibility by making sure they don't shoplift. There are consequences.
"Parents should talk to their children about the consequences of committing crimes on the installation and how it will affect the entire family."

He said youth shoplifting cases are adjudicated through Fort Benning's Juvenile Misconduct Action Authority, which conducts hearings twice a month. Punishment may include suspension of AAFES privileges, community service, loss of job opportunities, and revoked access to recreation facilities and the Youth Activities Center. In some instances, repeat offenders face exclusion from post or criminal charges.

Tucker said one juvenile caught shoplifting was recently barred from the installation for five years.

In addition, AAFES charges shoplifters and accomplices a $200 fee through the Federal Claims Collection Act, a civil recovery program that allows retailers to offset merchandise losses and administrative costs. The law, enacted in March 2002, doesn't require a criminal conviction.

"We have a great team here at Fort Benning and do our best to protect AAFES assets," Tucker said. "If you come in and shoplift, you will get caught. Just don't do it."