Private security for department stores

An article from last week from the NY Times details the growth of private security systems in department stores across the country. Macy's lost $100 million from shoplifters last year and runs a $28 million dollar a year security operation nationwide, including $4 for its Manhattan store. Accused shoplifters are detained in store 'jails' and interrogated. Verdicts are made as to guilt or innocence. Confessions are signed, and restitution is given by the shoplifter.

The operation is legally authorized, and, retailers say, necessary: private police fill the void left by public police too burdened to chase small-time thieves. Private police also save retailers legal costs by helping them settle shoplifting cases directly with the perpetrators. [..]

Private security operations in the retail world, like those in gated communities, amusement parks and sports stadiums, have grown in number over the last three decades yet remain largely shrouded from public scrutiny.

Although on the surface such security systems seem to have potential for abuse, the article points out many of the ways in which they complement or even surpass the public system. Namely, they are efficient, they save the stores money, and they take the burden off of police.

"Retailers have abandoned the criminal justice system because they know the system is not interested in them as a victim," Dr. Hollinger said.

They also use the principle of restitution as the standard for private settlement of charges, in which the thief simply pays back what he attempted to steal along with a penalty, in order to make the victim whole again. There is nobody pressing charges on behalf of 'society'.

Macy's policy is to call the police if anyone requests legal representation or asks to be set free immediately, but most people prefer to settle the matter privately, officials said.

Further, Macy's conducts internal checks for potentially abusive employees.

"Nonproductive detentions" ? the company's phrase for innocent people wrongly detained ? occur less than 1 percent of the time, and result in disciplinary action, store officials said. Thirty-two security guards were fired last year from Macy's East stores for wrongly detaining 66 people, and 43 other security associates were disciplined.

When was the last time a police force did something similar?

Perhaps the biggest advantage private security systems offer over traditional public systems is that if you are unsatisfied with Macy's security system, you take your business elsewhere.

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