Chico >> Local businesses have felt vulnerable to shoplifting for a variety of reasons, according to Katie Simmons, CEO of the Chico Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber along with the Downtown Chico Business Association and Chico Police Department are behind the new Retail Watch program to curb shoplifting after hearing about the problem repeatedly from businesses.
Monthly meetings will put retailers together with police and business contacts to share information and tips.
Between California legislation that reduces penalties for thefts of items worth less than $950 and puts parolees back on the streets earlier, Chico retailers feel they are being squeezed by shoplifters, Simmons said.
They also feel there isn’t much use in reporting shoplifting, according to what the chamber learned. Behind that feeling is the idea that police are too busy for those small crimes, as well as the frustration that criminals aren’t discouraged by the current system.
Those positions were gathered during the chamber’s regular Business Walks, and expounded upon during Business Roundtables, where businesses sit down with the chamber to talk about current issues.
Without naming businesses, Simmons said she’s heard of shoplifting problems in all sizes and kinds of business from the small ones to nationals.
It’s particularly difficult for the small businesses, especially the mom-and-pops that may have only one or two people in the store at any time, according to Melanie Bassett, executive director of the Downtown Chico Business Association, another partner.
Neither do they have the capability of having a loss prevention department like some national companies do, she said of small stores.
Simmons said she has witnessed shoplifting or suspicious behavior, from a man running out of a store with a bag filled with items to seeing a person jump on a bike inside a store and ride off.
Simmons stresses reporting the losses no matter the size.
“A business might think it’s not worth its time to report the theft of a $20 bottle of vitamins, but that person may have hopped into a stolen car that had a minor in, with drugs inside. It’s worth calling on the most minor incidents of theft,” she stressed.
Chico Police Chief Mike O’Brien has said, “We often see that a shoplifting charge, even for minor theft, can result in an arrest for felony warrants or other crimes.”
O’Brien has told this newspaper that roughly 40 percent of corporate-owned grocery and big-box stores in Chico don’t try to stop shoplifters and won’t report them because of their policies. If police catch a thief, many stores won’t press charges.
O’Brien says some corporations believe a pursuit and capture could scare away customers, so some feel it’s better to just absorb the loss.
Nate Dippery, loss prevention manager at Lowe’s home improvement, said, “Businesses often feel they’re operating alone when it comes to combatting theft, when in reality a few simple opportunities to share information could make a big difference.”
Simmons said the organizations will be trying to determine any changes in losses to help determine the program’s impact.