Store employee Jill Bergman pulls a pair of earrings from one of several display cabinets at the Artisans Market. Store owner Jan Lomas said that after consistent shoplifting programs, she invested more than $10,000 in glass cases to secure easily concealable objects - but the cases can make shoppers less likely to buy, Lomas said.

Photo by John F. Russell

Store employee Jill Bergman pulls a pair of earrings from one of several display cabinets at the Artisans Market. Store owner Jan Lomas said that after consistent shoplifting programs, she invested more than $10,000 in glass cases to secure easily concealable objects - but the cases can make shoppers less likely to buy, Lomas said.

Shoplifting cases increase in Steamboat

Police offer techniques to secure inventory at seminars today

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National view

- More than $13 billion worth of goods are stolen from retailers each year, or more than $35 million per day.

- There are more than 27 million shoplifters, or 1 in 11 people, in the United States.

- There is no profile of the typical shoplifter. Men and women shoplift at about equal frequency.

- About 25 percent of shoplifters are juveniles, meaning about 75 percent are adults.

- A survey of shoplifters showed that habitual shoplifters steal about 1.6 times a week and are caught about 1 in every 48 times they shoplift.

*All national shoplifting statistics are from research conducted in 2006.

Source: National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, www.shopliftingpr...

Sticky fingers

Reported shoplifting cases per year in Steamboat Springs

2007 : 22

2008 : 32

2009: 31*

*Through Oct. 28

Source: Steamboat Springs Police Department

If you go

What: Shoplifting prevention seminars offered by Mainstreet Steamboat Springs

When: 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. today. Each seminar lasts about 90 minutes.

Where: Centennial Hall, 124 10th St.

Cost: Free

Contact: Register by calling Tracy Barnett, of Mainstreet, at 970-846-1800. Drop-ins are welcome.

— Jan Lomas is beyond frustrated with the amount of shoplifting in her store.

After a summer that she said included a "ridiculous amount of theft" from her Artisans Market on Lincoln Avenue in downtown Steamboat Springs, Lomas finds herself caught between feelings of anger and hopelessness.

"The last couple of years when the economy has gone down, it has gotten way out of hand," she said Wednesday, adding that stolen items can cost her as much as $6,000 a year. "At times it's made me want to get out of retail completely and close the store."

Steve Kennedy, owner of The Homesteader at 817 Lincoln Ave., said several costly items were stolen from his gourmet kitchenware store during Labor Day weekend.

"We had $1,000 worth of theft, with an expensive espresso maker and some copper-core pans," he said, noting that the items were taken out the store's back door, which he now locks. "One thousand dollars in a weekend is a lot of money."

Detective Jerry Stabile, of the Steamboat Springs Police Department, said the number of reported shoplifting cases is slowly rising in the city, from 22 in 2007 to 32 in 2008 and 31 so far this year, with the holidays and winter season still ahead.

Stabile is leading two shoplifting prevention seminars today at 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. at Centennial Hall on 10th Street. The free, 90-minute seminars are hosted by Mainstreet Steamboat Springs and are open to everyone.

Stabile said local shoplifting spans a range of items, from people walking out of Walmart with a television in a shopping cart to others nabbing a candy bar from Kum & Go.

"Obviously, concealable items are the most common," Stabile said, adding that a shoplifter's age generally is not a factor. "It's kind of a common thing that folks want to blame younger people, but it's been our experience that it pretty much runs the gamut of age groups."

Stabile said Colorado law allows business owners to file civil cases against shoplifters that assess a penalty of $250, in addition to the criminal charges the thieves may face. Theft of less than $500 is a Class 2 misdemeanor, Stabile said, with a minimum penalty of three months in jail and a $250 fine, and a maximum penalty of 12 months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Penalties increase with the severity of the theft, criminal history and other factors.

Stabile said many shoplifting cases aren't noticed right away.

"I would say the vast majority go undetected until inventory is done and when (business owners) run their numbers for end of the year and look at the bottom line," he said.

Lomas said many cases likely go unreported - as is the case with her store.

"There's nothing (police) can really do for me, unless I know who the shoplifter is," she said. "I have to write it off as a loss on my taxes at the end of the year, and then I pay the artist out. : Usually you discover it after the fact."

Shoplifting was a consistent problem for Lomas even before the recession, she said, prompting her to attend a similar local seminar several years ago.

She has since taken preventive steps including the purchase of about $10,000 in glass cases to lock up small items; lowering displays so staff can see across the store; placing registers near the front door; and doubling her staff to allow for more interaction with customers.

Stabile and Lomas said personal interaction often is the best deterrent to shoplifting.

"When retailers are cordial and make eye contact and greet customers, there is research from people that have been arrested for shoplifting that the No. 1 deterrent is human contact by the employee," Stabile said. "Whether it's because they know the person got a good look at them, or because there's human contact that makes it personal."

Lomas said she plans to attend one of today's seminars.

"There's never enough" preventive information, she said. "I'm always up for anything new."

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