Dallas PD stops responding to retail thefts under $50

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Friday, March 2, 2012

DALLAS—The Dallas Police Department in February changed its policy for responding to shoplifting calls. From now on, the department will no longer routinely dispatch officers to shoplifting calls that involve merchandise valued at less than $50.

Gene Smith, president of the Loss Prevention Foundation, said that this type of policy is increasingly being seen in municipalities across the country as police departments try to maximize tightening budgets. "It is a trend," he said. "It gets down to the economics. With tax dollars being squeezed at municipal police departments, they're trying to prioritize their calls and a lot of people look at shoplifting and a big company and don’t think it hurts anyone because it’s a company. Well, add up those $50 shoplifting cases and we end up paying higher prices. It hurts us. It hurts the taxpayers, so it really does hurt somebody."

Five or 10 years ago, police departments didn't determine their response to a crime based on the dollar amount involved, Smith said. "The bottom line was: If you shoplifted something, the police were called. Period," he said. "If it was $15, $20, it didn't matter. Why should someone put a dollar amount on theft?"

Lt. Scott Walton from the Dallas Police Department said that the policy to not dispatch an officer for shoplifting cases valued at less than $50 is not absolute. Officers will be dispatched if the shoplifter is in custody and has prior arrests on his or her record, he said. He couldn't comment on why the policy change was made.

In Dallas, a retailer who catches someone who has stolen less than $50 worth of merchandise would need to verify the thief's identification and mail a form to the police department. It would then need to release the suspect.

Not everyone agrees with the decision. Ron Pinkston, president of the Dallas Police Department's largest union, told local television station Fox 4 News that the policy's goal is to lower crime stats and would succeed because businesses would stop reporting the crimes. "If they have to fill out offense reports and jump through hoops, they're going to stop reporting it," Pinkston said.

To combat the trend of responding less to small shoplifting cases, Smith said the onus is on the retailers to educate their local law enforcement, judiciary and legislatures on the true cost of retail crime.