Guards see increase in shoplifting at mall 10 people caught stealing last week at Marley Station

January 28, 1996|By TaNoah V. Sterling | TaNoah V. Sterling,SUN STAFF

Marley Station has been attracting more than just shoppers.

Security guards at the Glen Burnie mall caught 10 people last

week shoplifting everything from jeans and sweaters to luggage and cookware, including a trio from Baltimore who stole more than $1,200 worth of merchandise, Anne Arundel County police said.

The mall security staff does not keep detailed statistics on shoplifting, and county police numbers are not available yet. But security officers say the increase is evident.

"I think there's a steady increase," said Thomas W. Penn, head of security at J. C. Penney at Marley Station. "People are really struggling. I guess it's a hard time of year."

Mr. Penn said that although shoplifting in his store is down about 50 percent from the December, arrests this month are almost double what they were at this time last year. Last January, his staff caught nine people shoplifting. So far this month, 15 suspects have been detained for county police.

"We do have a lot of arrests," Mr. Penn acknowledged.

At Macy's, a security officer who wished not to be named, said she had noticed a definite increase.

"It hasn't dropped off since Christmas," she said. "Maybe it's because the laws are too lenient."

Thefts have not been limited to one or two items from a single store.

For example, county police arrested a Baltimore woman Monday on charges of stealing a $400 coat from Macy's. Officers said she told them to go outside and look for a 1981 maroon Volvo with two men sitting inside.

After searching the trunk, police reported that they found two flannel shirts from County Seat, two telephones from Spencers, a flashlight from Radio Shack, action figures from Kay-Bee Toys, a jacket from Britches Great Outdoors, a fleece hat from Eddie Bauer, two knife sets from Lechter's and a leather jacket from Merry-Go-Round. Total value, more than $1,200.

None of the Marley Station security officers could explain the increase in shoplifting. The Annapolis Mall, just 15 miles south of Glen Burnie, has not experienced a similar increase, a spokesman said.

Mr. Penn speculated that people are now getting bills for things they bought during the holidays and need ways to make quick cash.

J. C. Penney is one of few stores to give customers cash refunds without receipts, and shoplifters sometimes steal merchandise and refund it later or at another store, he said.

"For 30 seconds of work, you can get $200 to $300 worth of stuff and it's not that hard," Mr. Penn said.

National crime prevention publications call shoplifting a "growth industry" and place the annual value of stolen goods at $30 billion to $50 billion. That expense and the cost of store security is passed along to the consumer.

Security guards fear shoplifters are becoming more violent, fighting back when they're detained.

On Tuesday, a shoplifting suspect confronted at Hecht's by security guard Lee Mauer kicked him in the stomach and ribs during a struggle. The next day, a shoplifter fought with security guard Dennis Wenk, injuring his hand and arm. In another recent incident, a fleeing shoplifter tried to run down a guard with a car.

The stores are fighting back.

J. C. Penney has a complex surveillance system that includes about 25 cameras that can follow customers through the store and zoom in close enough to see price tags. But it has not stopped thieves.

Security officers say that despite the latest spate of shoplifting their companies do not intend to add officers. Some said the best weapons are modern detection systems and well-trained staffs.

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