In the blink of an eye, a thief can swipe merchandise from a retail store and leave other shoppers with the bill.
Shoplifting costs the American public more than $33 billion a year, according to a survey from the National Retail Security organization. The costs are passed on to customers in higher prices, according to the survey.
Retailers aren't just letting thieves get away, though. Many have tough policies against shoplifting and provide training in loss prevention to their employees.
Uniformed security guards, camera systems and watchful employees are all strategies stores use to keep shoplifters at bay. But not every store can curtail shoplifting because there isn't a profile to watch for.
Shoplifters come in every age and from every economic background. Some juveniles see shoplifting as a rite of passage. Some adults do it just to see if they can.
But in Cape Girardeau County, shoplifters who get caught are prosecuted. And their punishment isn't just a slap on the wrist. Local retailers are prompt about pressing charges, and Morley Swingle, the prosecuting attorney, treats the crime seriously.
He's even written a booklet that stores can use to help them understand exactly what they should do when they apprehend a shoplifting suspect and are waiting for police to arrive. The book is available to any business.
In addition, the juvenile authorities work hard to see that young shoplifters learn about the consequences of their stealing through a special program designed to keep them from becoming repeat offenders. Statistics suggest the program is working.
Shoplifting is a misdemeanor and carries a penalty of a day to a year in the county jail. But if a person has two prior convictions for stealing and takes more than $500 worth of merchandise, the fines increase.
It might seem like a harmless crime to the person who's trying to walk out of the store with items that weren't purchased, but shoplifting is serious. It costs everyone. And local retailers, police and the prosecuting attorney treat it just like any other serious crime. By having a tough stance on shoplifting, thieves quickly get the message that Cape Girardeau County isn't the place for them.