From petty shoplifters to counterfeiters to professional scam artists, just about every Amherst store owner has a story of being targeted by criminals.
Police Lt. Mark Cawthon coached local merchants Wednesday in how to protect their stores from thieves.
He told Main Street Amherst members to use mirrors and well-placed surveillance cameras, keep high-priced items away from doors, and be suspicious when people “scope out” the inside of the store, whisper furtively with each other, seem nervous, wear baggy clothes, walk in and out of the store quickly, walk strangely, or have baby strollers.
Workers have a right to detain shoppers who appear to be concealing merchandise in bags, pockets, or under clothing, Cawthon said, at least until police arrive. But he cautioned against searching suspects, saying doing so could easily cross a legal line.
If a thief gets away, store owners should do everything possible to note height, weight, hair and eye color, clothing, vehicle descriptions, license plate numbers, and other information that could help police identify the suspect.
More than 10 million people have been caught shoplifting in the past five years, making it the most common property crime in the United States.
They typically take between $2 and $200 worth of merchandise per incident.
In Ohio, convictions for theft of less than $1,000 is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days jail time and $1,000 in fines. Stealing more than $1,000 is automatically a felony, escalating up to years behind bars and tens of thousands of dollars in fines.
Cawthon said in the Oberlin Municipal Court, where misdemeanors are handled, judge Thomas Januzzi is very strict when it comes to theft cases.
The police lieutenant’s primer also covered how to spot fake currency, credit card verification policies, and how to collect information that will limit the damage caused by bad checks.
Far more serious is dealing with break-ins and robberies.
Cawthon advised buying a double-cylinder deadbolt or five-to-seven pin tumbler lock. Locksmiths say a burglar can easily pick a lock with fewer than five pins.
Have appropriate alarm systems and make sure to have adequate indoor and outdoor lighting, Cawthon told business owners.
Don’t let window displays crowd the view from the road — police want to be able to see inside. Cawthon also recommended placing the safe in a place visible to the outside so anyone trying to access it can be clearly seen by police patrols.
If a thief makes threats or uses violence, taking care of employees and customers should be the first priority, he said.
“Things can be replaced,” Cawthon told shop owners. “It’s not worth your life to confront a robbery suspect over a few dollars or a piece of merchandise… A robber is volitile. If they’re drawing a weapon on you or coming in to rob your store, they’re obviously not in a right state of mind.”
Amherst police recorded 78 thefts, 15 burglaries, six breaking-and-entering incidents, and two robberies in 2014, the last year the numbers were made available via an annual report.
Police have not published a 2015 annual report, citing ongoing computer issues.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
Jason Hawk | Amherst News-Times Amherst police Lt. Mark Cawthon gives helpful advise to local store owners on how to protect themselves in the event of a shoplifting incident, theft, break-in, or robbery.