Small-time pickpockets 29-year old Trish, played by Mary Stuart Masterson, and her six-year-old niece Patsy takes Christmas shoplifting to a whole new level in the movie On the Second Day of Christmas, when they try to pick-pocket Mr. Limber, the owner of the Limbers department store. Trish ultimately winds up falling for the security guard Bert, played by Mark Ruffalo, who caught them. Bert quits his job and proposes to Trish.
Although for Trish and Patsy, shoplifting is sustenance, reasons for shoplifting in Sri Lanka is less benign, with women stealing mobile phones and stuffing handbags under their garments. Shoplifters, most of whom are professionals eagerly await festive seasons like Christmas and Avurdu to earn an extra buck, by selling for half price their hard stolen stash. Christmas and Avurudu are times when shoppers buy more goods than they do at any other time of year. Large crowds rushing to purchase last-minute gifts and preoccupied and overworked sales staff are a shoplifter’s paradise.
Colombo Land and Development Company PLC, Chief Operating Officer, Devadharshan Jayadeva said that about 90 per cent of shops in the Liberty Plaza shopping complex are covered by CCTV cameras. “CCTV cameras in the common areas such as the food court in the basement have been installed and are managed by Colombo Land and Development Company”, he said.
He claims that CCTV cameras are an effective deterrent against shoplifters and recounted that a pickpocket who was caught on camera recently was handed over to the police and the handbag which the perpetrator tried to steal from a table in the basement food court was returned to the owner.
According to Police Media Spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana, the period from December 15 to January 10 marks the best time when criminals are most active during the festive season. “The only other time when they are this active is between April 1 and 20, just before the Sinhala and Hindu Tamil New Year”, he said and went on to explain that during the festive seasons, people leave houses vacant for hours and criminals target such residences for burgling.
Some 10,000 uniformed policemen and approximately 800 plain clothes officers will be deployed in Colombo and the suburbs, including crowded locations popular for Christmas shopping such as Mount Lavinia, Kiribathgoda, Dehiwala and Nugegoda to crackdown on crimes during the Christmas season according to DIG Rohana.
“Popular shopping centres will also be under surveillance,” warned DIG Rohana who also reiterating the importance of public vigilance. “The public must be vigilant about their belongings and valuables in crowded public places. Parents must refrain from allowing children to wear valuable jewellery”.
He said that a greater part of Colombo is covered by CCTV cameras and these along with private CCTV cameras will afford Police enough surveillance of the city.
DIG Rohana also ensured that if patrolling officers happen to be in the vicinity, they would be at any scene within 10 minutes of a complaint.
Certis Lanka, Group Chief Executive Director/CEO, Vipul Hettige reiterated the importance of assessing the background of shoplifting in order to curtail it. He explained that there are a few categories of shoplifters, such as professional shoplifters, those who steal because they can’t afford the goods, those who shoplift due to a psychological condition such as kleptomania, those who connive with staff members to steal goods and those who steal due to pure temptation.
“Professional shoplifters don’t work the same area for too long,” said Hettige. “If they shoplift from Maharagama today, in a few days they’ll shoplift from somewhere like Kandy.”
He explained that professionals always go for small sized, high value items and sell it for half the price.
“Those who steal because they can’t afford certain goods, steal items such as milk powder and chocolate. Those who steal out of temptation are often children who grab chocolates and sweets off shelves in supermarkets while their parents are preoccupied shopping”, explained Hettige.
He reiterated that such background information is imperative to identify what items are often stolen, so shop owners can arrange their shops accordingly. Internationally the most stolen product lines include alcohol, electronic devices, women’s clothing and fashion accessories, toys, perfume, health and beauty gift packs, food and Christmas decorations, electrical goods, watches and jewellery, chocolates and confectionery.
“Since professional shoplifters usually go for small-sized high value goods, expensive pens, watches, mobile phones and jewellery should be kept under lock and key”, advises Hettige. “Expensive items should be stored in such a way that they are in direct view of the staff.
“Just installing CCTV cameras is not going to get the job done. They must be monitored at all times.”
Hettige emphasized the importance of a good communications system to back the surveillance system. “If the CCTV monitors are several floors from the site of theft, it will be very unpractical if the person monitoring the CCTV has to run several floors to inform someone of the theft. During that time the thief would have already escaped. A good communications system has to be installed so the monitoring person can inform the security with one call”, said Hettige.
Hettige recommended that awareness should be raised among staff members about shoplifting.
“Any staff members caught colluding with thieves should be penalized as a deterrent. Sign boards that say, ‘Shop lifting is a crime’ or ‘this establishment is monitored by CCTV cameras’, will discourage potential shoplifters.
“Monitoring is very difficult during the festive season. But if a security guard is put on patrol potential thieves may be discouraged. These along with tight control and CCTV monitoring is enough deterrent for shoplifters”, assured Hettige.
“Potential shoplifters tend to avoid places with tight security.”
Hettige also emphasized the importance of obtaining the service of a good security company this festive season.