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Who Actually Steals? A Study of Covertly Observed Shoplifters

NCJ Number
Justice Quarterly Volume: 21 Issue: 4 Dated: December 2004 Pages: 693-728
Dean A. Dabney; Richard C. Hollinger; Laura Dugan
Date Published
December 2004
36 pages
This study examined the prevalence and characteristics of shoplifting through covert observation of shoppers.
While shoplifting is one of the most common and costly of crimes, scant data exist concerning the characteristics of the shoplifters and the offense itself. Previous research on shoplifting has relied primarily on official data provided by police or retail security departments, calling into question the reliability of the information gleaned from this data. The current study examined shoplifting behavior through unobtrusive, covert observation of a sample of 1,365 shoppers in order to identify a reliable demographic and behavioral profile of the typical contemporary shoplifter. Closed circuit television technology was used to observe the shoppers for a 1-year period in a suburban retail drug store and a standardized template was used to record offense and offender characteristics. Results of statistical analyses revealed a significant number of shoplifters; 8.5 percent of the observed sample was covertly observed shoplifting. Logistic regression analysis indicated that behavioral indicators of shoplifting were a more reliable predictor of shoplifting than were demographic characteristics of shoplifters. The findings also illuminated significant discrepancies between the demographic profile of shoplifters gleaned from official apprehension data and the profile gleaned from observation studies, indicating that security personnel and police officers were targeting the wrong group of people as likely shoplifters. Future research should continue to use new methodologies to examine the dynamics of other offenses and offenders. Tables, figures, references, appendixes