CALGARY — In this rapidly growing and affluent city, Constables Lara Sampson and Andrew Critchley have been tasked with preventing retail crime.
They manage an online network for retailers and police, called Retail C.O.P. (Cameras on Patrol), a web-based interactive program where photographs and video surveillance images of criminals, suspected criminals and criminal activity can be posted to further police investigations.
“Police mentality is, if it’s less than about $30, charges are not laid. It’s a positive that we have discretion. If we did charge everyone we’d clog the system,” says Critchley.
For many people, a single brush with the law is enough to stop them from committing another crime, but there are others who are gaming the system with the knowledge that police do have and use discretionary power when it comes to shoplifting.
Now pictures of shoplifters can be posted to Retail C.O.P., even after a single incident. That makes it easier to identify people who aren’t actually being caught for the first time, but are in fact chronic shoplifters or people who might be working for an organized retail crime group.
The system was designed in full compliance with Alberta’s and Canadian privacy laws, according to Chritchley.
“We are able to share information with the retail community within minutes of obtaining it, preventing crimes occurring. When crimes do occur, we assist in the identification process, as many of the offenders are known to us,” says Critchley.
Critchley and Sampson also initiate and implement offender management strategies, working with probation authorities, crown attorneys and internal and external specialty police units in an effort to prevent habitual shoplifters from reoffending.
Sometimes that comes in the form of linking them up with social and community services, including food banks, mental health services and addiction services.
Sampson says what the public doesn’t think about enough is that when they buy items with suspiciously low prices, online or in person, they could be supporting organized crime. They could end up being charged by police or robbed by the vendor. The item may be damaged or malfunction or not function at all.
Or they could buy it only to have it seized as evidence by police.