Spring Cleaning Should Include A Review Of Evidence Held For Shoplifting And Employee Theft Cases

When I was a Loss Prevention Manager we would catch a shoplifter or a dishonest employee and recover merchandise. Depending on the type of case we would sometimes hold the evidence for a few days until the court hearing other times it could be much longer. If a shoplifter refused to plead guilty or requested a jury trial cases could be held up for months if not longer. I had several cases that went on for more than a year. Felony shoplifting cases and juvenile cases in our jurisdiction often meant lengthy wait periods depending on caseloads in the court. I also recall at least one shoplifting case in which the lawyer for the defendant requested extensions three separate times hoping that I would not appear for the hearing and the case would be dropped. No dice, I showed up for each hearing and finally the lawyer entered a guilty plea. The problem with the lengthy cases was that we would have to hold the evidence until the cases were settled. In some situations the police department held the recovered merchandise, such as when they stopped the suspect after the suspect fled the store. When merchandise has to be held for long periods it is possible for it to sit in evidence and be forgotten about. For stores that are too small to have security or Loss Prevention Departments management may be storing that evidence and no one is thinking about following up on cases with their police department or court.

     Spring is the perfect time to look through cases and see if there is merchandise that can be returned to inventory. Before you just go in and start looking through evidence closets or lockers that you may have in your store take some things into consideration. Just as police have chains of custody, a store should have a similar program in place. No one should be able to open a security cabinet and start digging through it. A proper evidence locker will have a listing of evidence that is associated with a case number, date and suspect(s) name. This enables the store to track the progress of a case. It also gives reference information so that a call to the Clerk of Court can help their employees find the status of a case. When the locker is opened, there should be a signature sheet with a date and time entry showing when it was accessed. There should also be an evidence release form in the event police have to take custody of property (be aware that they will have their own chain of custody form for you to sign too).

     Why is it so important to go through and review for evidence that can be cleaned out? From an inventory standpoint the product could be losing value. I did have merchandise sit in my evidence locker and some SKU’s went clearance as the merchandise had to be held while the case was in limbo. In a few instances merchandise completely dropped from the books and I had to take financial sheets and account for the products. Occasionally police would come by with merchandise from cases I had forgotten about and let me know that they were cleaning out their evidence lockers and a case had been dismissed or adjudicated without any follow up with our store. Again, this was infrequent as most cases were disposed of with me present or a call from the Clerk of Court letting me know the defendant had entered a guilty plea. Our store was large enough that we could absorb some of these lost markdowns or the items dropped from the system without making a major impact on our stock shortage. For smaller stores this could be problematic. Every dollar and piece of merchandise should be accounted for whenever possible at inventory time. The lower the annual sales the more impact each lost or uncounted piece of merchandise has on overall shortage.

     What is the solution to potential losses because merchandise is in evidence? Use spring as the time to review what you may have in your evidence locker from shoplifting and employee theft cases. If there are cases that have been sitting for a month or more, place a call to the court that is responsible for the case and ask about the status. If it has been closed on their end you should be able to release the goods back to the store. If it is still awaiting trial or disposition continue holding it in evidence. One final piece of advice, some jurisdictions will permit photos of evidence to suffice for court. Contact your local police department or court to find out their rules and guidelines.