Department store posting photos of suspected shoplifters

Rosie Mullaley
Published on July 19, 2016

Rosie Mullaley/The Telegram

Roxanne Burton, manager in-training at the Pipers department store on Elizabeth Avenue in St. John’s, stands next to the store’s display board, located near the entrance, showing customers photos of suspected shoplifters.

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Walking into Pipers department store on Elizabeth Avenue in St. John’s, customers are surrounded by several display items near the entrance — plastic flowers, bread, discounted kids’ clothes and tourist knick-knacks.  
But there’s something that immediately catches the eye.

Just inside the entrance, customers are greeted with a display board that has photos of five people captured by security cameras inside the store.

Underneath the photos, a message reads, “If you have any information about any of these people, please contact management. Thank you.”

The four women and one man displayed on the photos are suspected shoplifters, who were seen allegedly stealing items from the store.

The decision to post the board with photos was made by management, who not only want help from the public to identify these people, but also want a way to deter shoplifters.

“It’s unbelievable just how big a problem shoplifting has become. It’s crazy,” said manager Cathie Skinner.

She said the store loses thousands of dollars in revenue every year due to shoplifting.

“It’s strange because the store is in such a wonderful area. We have a lovely clientele. Yet, for whatever reason, this is the hardest-hit (Pipers) store with regards to shoplifting. I don’t even understand why.”

The store has a high-quality security system, with cameras located throughout the building.

“Every square foot of this store is covered,” Skinner said. “I can look at anyone in any part of the store and see what they’re doing.”

The cameras were installed when the store opened about six years ago. While they’ve been helpful in catching shoplifters, they haven’t been enough to stop it.

“People have always known we had (security cameras), yet it still doesn’t deter some people, “ said Skinner, who added they’ve boosted the number of plainclothes security guards inside the store as well.

“We’re really hoping the board by the front door will become a partial deterrent. It’s been really helpful. People come in and think, oh, they have cameras everywhere here.”

Skinner has been in the retail business for 30 years. She said when she worked at smaller stores, shoplifters would often be caught red-handed. Now, in a bigger store, that’s not always possible, she said.

The security system and photo display, she said, is “our chance at getting them.”

In fact, Skinner said, putting up the display board, along with other measures store management has taken, has helped decrease shoplifting in the store by 40 per cent.

She said the photos are displayed only after police have reviewed the surveillance videos and have opened files on them for an investigation. They also consulted with a lawyer before posting the board.

Skinner said the display board is not meant to publicly shame these people, only to catch them and hold them responsible.

“It’s just helping the police in their investigation,” said Skinner, who has gotten several tips from customers about the photos. “It’s no different than police or other companies posting to Facebook or Twitter.”

RNC Const. Geoff Higdon said several businesses in the metro area are doing the same — posting photos of suspected thieves in staff rooms or outside in the store for customers to see, or posting messages to warn potential shoplifters of the cameras’ existence.

He said businesses often call the RNC for advice about posting photos, noting that the RNC also displays photos on its website, and its Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Skinner said it’s disheartening to see so much shoplifting and it’s too bad businesses are forced to take these kinds of measures.

“But it’s a sign of the times. Things have changed so much,” she said. “We all have to do what we can to protect ourselves.”