Catching shoplifters.
June 12, 2008 4:35 PM   Subscribe

I need links to information regarding the catching of shoplifters, how to restrain them, their legal rights and ours. In Canada.

I work in a large used bookstore that has a real problem with shoplifting. We're trying to crack down on it but I'm having trouble finding information about the rights of anyone we catch while we are holding them. I'd like to have something I can print out for the employees and for anyone we catch to peruse while waiting for the cops to show up. (We've been told repeatedly by shoplifters, that we are violating their rights when we most certainly are not, it would be nice to have a concise sheet to show them).
The other thing is, we'd like to start keeping a photo archive of banned people, which I'm pretty sure is fine. We'd also like to give these pictures to other bookstores in the neighborhood, which I'm not so sure is allowed. (These shoplifters will often steal things from us, and then try to sell them to another store, or vice versa).
Basically, anything relating to shoplifting laws in Ontario, Canada would be very useful, my googling is turning up only links to legal aid sites.
posted by melgy to Law & Government (36 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This is only anecdotal info, but I believe they have to leave the premises before it is actually considered shoplifting. I worked at a gas station through high school, and one time while we were out at the pumps I saw a kid go into the back room where the cartons of cigarettes were held. I came back in (this was winter he was wearing a big jacket) and asked what was under his jacket, he said nothing, and then when I told him I saw him go into the back room he pulled out a couple cartons of cigarettes.

I called the cops on him, they came right then, and they talked to him, but explained that there wasn't anything they could do since he hadn't left the premises. This would have included the whole lot that the gas station was on.

SO -- I'm not sure what you're supposed to do really. It seems very frustrating. But I really like the photographing idea.

Sorry I don't have any help other than this story :P
posted by Flying Squirrel at 4:48 PM on June 12, 2008

You should ask the police department that will arrest your shoplifters.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 4:51 PM on June 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Never chase them. Remember details about them, if possible. Also if they get into a car, note the color, make, approximate year and license plate if you can see it, then call the cops.
posted by InsanePenguin at 5:00 PM on June 12, 2008

This may help a little - The Pleasures and Perils of Chasing Book Thieves
posted by Artw at 5:10 PM on June 12, 2008

Second call the local police department and ask the, it's a great starting point.
Ask another business owner - try the manager of a supermarket or other larger store - they'll have plenty of experience and probably be happy to help.
Or the local chamber of commerce...
posted by TravellingDen at 5:10 PM on June 12, 2008

We've been told repeatedly by shoplifters, that we are violating their rights when we most certainly are not

If they're not staying voluntarily, you're wrong about this.
posted by oaf at 5:34 PM on June 12, 2008

I can't speak to the legal issues regarding detaining the shoplifters, but if you are able to get photos of the offenders you could create something like a "Bulletin board of thieves" as a deterrent. Post photos of people you've caught lifting, along with a caption such as "Please don't steal from us like these people did". Display in the front of the store. It seems like the fear of embarrassment would keep most potential lifters away from the store.
posted by btkuhn at 5:48 PM on June 12, 2008

If they're not staying voluntarily, you're wrong about this.

Let me elaborate to say that if you haven't actually seen them steal the book, and you can't prove that they took it, you're quite likely to lose your business when you're sued into the ground by someone you've improperly detained.
posted by oaf at 5:51 PM on June 12, 2008

Not true, oaf. If we have cause to believe that a person has shoplifted, we are allowed to place them under "citizens arrest", we can then detain them, provided we have notified the police. I checked that one with the police. It's also true that they have to leave the store before it's considered shoplifting.
I'm more looking for printable things to have up for other employees, and, as I said, for the shoplifters themselves, so they are aware of their rights.
posted by melgy at 5:54 PM on June 12, 2008

melgy, you need to talk to a lawyer about citizen's arrest. It's my understanding that you can do this only if they are guilty (while police can arrest based on probable cause). The police have given you advice on what the police will tolerate from you -- this is not the same as getting legal advice on what you can be sued for.

Are you asking your employees to physically prevent shoplifters from leaving? It seems to me that this may be exposing yourself to more liability (from employees, should they be injured) than it's worth.
posted by winston at 6:03 PM on June 12, 2008

We only stop people if we are sure they are guilty. We have cameras and often see people shove books down their pants, or whatever, then follow them out and grab them. We're not asking employees to do this, just keep an eye out and let management know. They then deal with the actual detaining.
And, we usually give them a few outs. Earlier this week, before a shoplifter left, we repeatedly asked him to give us back the book he'd stolen. He kept claiming he hadn't stolen anything and left the store. Then myself and a manager followed him out and grabbed him.
We're not really too thrilled with having to do this, it's just gotten so out of hand at our store that something has to be done.
posted by melgy at 6:13 PM on June 12, 2008

melgy, ask the cops. It's their job to handle these things, and they will absolutely tell you what you can and cannot do.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 6:19 PM on June 12, 2008

A consultation with a lawyer doesn't cost much compared to the benefit of having solid answers to your questions. You should treat any answer you get here as something to discuss with the lawyer, not as the final answer itself
posted by winston at 6:21 PM on June 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

This got a little sidetracked, I just wanted something to print out and have on hand, and couldn't turn anything up on the internet. I've talked to the police and know what we can and can't do. I need something to show people, so that when a detained shoplifter is saying I am violating their rights, I can show them I am not. Like an online criminal code or something. I was hoping someone had a link to that, since I can't turn it up on my own.
posted by melgy at 6:26 PM on June 12, 2008

As long as you don't leave your property, you're fine. You can't just detain people anywhere you please.
posted by oaf at 6:29 PM on June 12, 2008

You really should leave the pursuit to the police, because when you make a mistake, it could cost you the store.
posted by oaf at 6:35 PM on June 12, 2008

Oaf, if it's not shoplifting unless you leave the store, and you can't detain people once they have left your property, shoplifters would never be caught!
You are allowed to restrain them and bring them back to the store. If they resist you, then they are resisting arrest (you are obliged to say they are under arrest, and what for, when you grab them). This was checked with the local PD. Actually, it turns out if they resist you that is a more serious charge, and the police will show up faster.
posted by melgy at 6:38 PM on June 12, 2008

Not a lawyer but I found lots of stuff on Google. See Law FAQ. Melgy appears to be correct in that he is allowed to detain shoplifters outside the store. See also this story which came up in my Googling in which security guards tackled a shoplifter and broke his teeth. The shoplifter was awarded damages because the Judge deemed the amount of force used in the arrest to be excessive. According to the Section 25 of the criminal code (cited in this case) you can only use force that is likely to cause death or grievous bodily harm if it is necessary for self-preservation or protection.

(3) Subject to subsections (4) and (5), a person is not justified for the purposes of subsection (1) in using force that is intended or is likely to cause death or grievous bodily harm unless the person believes on reasonable grounds that it is necessary for the self-preservation of the person or the preservation of any one under that person’s protection from death or grievous bodily harm..

Also see section 494 of the Canadian criminal code: (here)

Arrest without warrant by any person

494. (1) Any one may arrest without warrant
(a) a person whom he finds committing an indictable offence; or
(b) a person who, on reasonable grounds, he believes
(i) has committed a criminal offence, and
(ii) is escaping from and freshly pursued by persons who have lawful authority to arrest that person.

Arrest by owner, etc., of property
(2) Any one who is
(a) the owner or a person in lawful possession of property, or
(b) a person authorized by the owner or by a person in lawful possession of property,
may arrest without warrant a person whom he finds committing a criminal offence on or in relation to that property.

Delivery to peace officer
(3) Any one other than a peace officer who arrests a person without warrant shall forthwith deliver the person to a peace officer.

R.S., c. C-34, s. 449; R.S., c. 2(2nd Supp.), s. 5.
posted by PercussivePaul at 6:54 PM on June 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Thank you, Percussive Paul! Exactly what I was looking for. I am not so hot at the google...
posted by melgy at 6:58 PM on June 12, 2008

Oaf, if it's not shoplifting unless you leave the store, and you can't detain people once they have left your property, shoplifters would never be caught!

Your property line is right at the door?

This was checked with the local PD.

That gives you absolutely no clue whether it's correct or not.
posted by oaf at 7:04 PM on June 12, 2008

oaf, do you have something to back up what you're saying? The links I provided seem to indicate he is correct and you are not.
posted by PercussivePaul at 7:11 PM on June 12, 2008

The best way to stop shoplifters is to make it impossible to shoplift. Read this book. Then think about it. Go through your store, thinking like a shoplifter. Enlist the aid of others to do that. Where are you out of sight of the counter? Where are you out of sight of the other shoppers? Those are the spots to prominently put up cameras. (Fake/obsolete/junk store ones, even.) Are the shelves all angled such that they can be seen from the counter, or is the store a dingy maze? If you have two or more employees in the store, can you put up a second counter to enhance visibility? Is there a place you should hang up a mirror?

Why, seriously, are they shoplifting from a used bookstore? Who are the shoplifters? Is it schoolkids, mostly? Do you have a particular speciality? Are your prices significantly higher than those of other bookstores? Is your selection that much better? is there no library in town? Are they dirt poor, yet desperate to not be ignorant? There must be some reason. If you can establish the reason (it's never "they're just assholes"), then you have a greater chance of addressing it. Talk to other store owners, and other bookstore owners. Try to find out what the general shoplifting level is like in town, and what it's all about. If it's mostly one school, call up the school principal, and politely ask for an appointment to talk about it. If it's commuters at the train station, is it possible they're shoplifting because your clerk--or you--are too slow with transactions? Is your clerk--or are you--unfriendly or intimidating enough to scare little old ladies into shoplifting Barbara Cartland books rather than face you? :)

Do you encourage "regulars"? People who hang around your store, if you don't mind them, can be great shoplifter-deterrents. Try setting up a coffee table or two, with a chess or Scrabble board, and get a small fridge for crisps, chocolate bars and soft drinks.

Do you allow reading in the store, or do you glare and snarl "This ain't no library, son, you gonna buy that?" Remember, your customers are readers. We like, and are interested in, reading. I probably spend about $2000 a year on books. The book I skim-read in the aisle while you glared at me, is priced at $10. I did approximately $0.01 worth of damage to it, and you still get to sell it to someone else. And because you didn't bother me, and my lunch hour is over, I'm going to buy that other book here, and this one too, and pay you $20 for 'em, and I might even come back. Be more tolerant of readers. (That's not shoplifting-related per se, but encouragement of "regulars" who feel welcome.)

What books are shoplifted? Is it Playboys and the like? Is it small novels? Textbooks? Comics? These indicate different demographics of shoplifters, and different approaches. Are you getting the books back in exchanges, ie are people shoplifting two, reading them, then bringing them back as 2-for-1 exchanges?

What are they putting the stolen books in? Bags? Big jackets? Set aside an area behind the counter, or empty a bookshelf and put it there. Put up a sign saying "NO ENTRY WITH BAGS/JACKETS; FREE CLOAKROOM HERE". If they wear jackets inside because it's cold, heat the store more. Get a bunch of airline-type luggage tags, and let them write their name on the tag and attach it when they give you the bag, if there's no other easy way to identify it. (Schoolbags, for example.) Chances are, plenty of honest customers will also be grateful to be able to put down their bags in safety while they browse. Put up one of those "all care, no responsibility etc" signs too.

Since your customers are readers, they carry books. (I'm one myself, I know.) On occasion customers will walk in with books. There should be some easy way to distinguish an honest customer's book: I suggest using bright-colored price tags, but please use the sort that peels off clean! That way when someone like me walks up to the counter with two books from your store, and one I brought in 'cos I'm reading it, you can tell.

Keep an eye out for commercial auctions, and if you can find one of those walk-through beeper things that video stores use, for less than shoplifting costs you over two years or so, it might be worth getting one. Set up the counter so that people have to walk through it to exit or enter the store, and the clerk can pass books around it at the cash register. Even building a convincing-looking fake one (and telling no-one it's fake) would help. :)
posted by aeschenkarnos at 7:13 PM on June 12, 2008 [5 favorites]

Oaf, was not looking for an argument, only links! The one provided by percussivepaul does seem to back up what the police told me.
posted by melgy at 7:16 PM on June 12, 2008

oaf.. could you please back up your assertions? I know you're used to the portrayal of American police, but by and large Canadian cops are pretty respectful and decent people (yes there are bad apples, no let's not derail to that) who would give correct answers when asked by a shopkeeper what they can and cannot do.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:23 PM on June 12, 2008

I kept Googling cause this is interesting!
In Canada, rights at the time of arrest are governed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. (wiki)

You can give them a printout of the charter to show them what their rights are, and you can point to the criminal code which says you have the authority to arrest them because you witnessed them committing a crime. Pretty hard to argue with that.
posted by PercussivePaul at 8:12 PM on June 12, 2008

In general, the police are the wrong people to ask whether something is legal or not: It's not their area of expertise. This goes double when what the police are allowed to do differs from what a member of the public is allowed to do.
posted by pharm at 1:31 AM on June 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

On this issue of photographing and keeping photographs of people, this is an increasingly complicated part of Canadian law and you should check with the Privacy Commissioner about where things stand. It's a moving target as to how the law is interpreted but here's a questionnaire for businesses which gives you some idea of the complexities. Personally I'd be extremely wary of photographing people in this way as a retail business (there are some exceptions for, for example, artists who photograph people on the streets).
posted by unSane at 4:15 AM on June 13, 2008

pharm, in my experience the police are absolutely the right people to talk to when it comes to what you are and are not allowed to do in prevention of a crime. They're the ones who are going to arrest you if you cross the line, after all, and the last thing that most cops want to do is arrest some otherwise law-abiding citizen on a technicality.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 4:51 AM on June 13, 2008

oaf -- as far as I can tell the criminal code makes no distinction. It says plainly that anyone can make an arrest. The charter describes your rights with respect to being arrested. Tell me where I'm wrong. And don't just say I'm wrong, link to something that backs it up for goodness sake. Did you read the Law Faq link? It is an interpretation of the Canadian criminal code for laymen, provided by a legal resource center. It *clearly* supports pretty much everything I and the OP have been saying.
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:54 AM on June 13, 2008

Police officers aren't lawyers. You take legal advice from them at your own peril


Cite. Seriously. Proof, please.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:10 AM on June 13, 2008

Hey, I deal with the same things at my store. Yes, we're in BC but the criminal code is largely the same.

In order to detain someone, I have to do the following:
1. See the concealment
2. Maintain unbroken visual contact with the suspect
3. See them make no attempt to pay. This means we can arrest before they leave the store, as long as they have clearly passed the registers and are on their way to the exit
4. Upon arresting, state the exact reasons why I am detaining them
posted by rhinny at 3:10 PM on June 13, 2008

I'd like to reiterate what others have said: whatever you might think, cops are notoriously bad sources of legal advice. They are often badly taught, and even then it's generally only the law that is specifically applicable to their duties as a police officer. I say that having spent several months, if not years, riding in cop cars with cops of different flavors, and with a deep appreciation for how difficult and shitty it is to be a police officer.

As one high ranking police officer put it to me: "My men don't go out there with a lawbook on their backs."
posted by unSane at 8:10 PM on June 14, 2008

I think I might have started the "legal advice from cops" argument so I want to clarify: Whether the cops are good at providing legal advice is irrelevant. The key thing is: the advice the cops gave is not legal advice. They gave advice on how to avoid getting arrested by that police force (which is based on the police department's view of the criminal law), not how to avoid getting sued (civil law). And if you asked them how to avoid getting sued, they would/should refuse to tell you, regardless of whether they know the answer.
posted by winston at 12:21 PM on June 15, 2008

[many comments removed - take the metadiscussion to meail or metatalk and please help the OP answer their question, thank you.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:51 AM on June 17, 2008

I'm a bit late to this question, but I'm pretty sure that you're getting incomplete information.

While the criminal code sets out rules for a citizens' arrest, I would be surprised if any retail security uses that.

A much preferred method is to use the provincial Trespass to Property Act to minimise your/your employer's liability and to increase the probability of a court finding against the offender.

Of course, things may be different in your area. A good idea would be to chat up a bored-looking private security guard and see what they do.
posted by newatom at 8:15 PM on June 17, 2008

You're looking at being charged with kidnapping, forcible confinement, and maybe assault if you decide that you're allowed to detain people.
posted by oaf at 6:55 AM on May 27, 2009

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