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Many Tennessee retailers are using alternative methods to stop shoplifters

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – They are brazen and dangerous. Groups of thieves rush into retail stores to grab as many as possible before they run out.

Last October, a group sprayed bear spray inside Nordstrom at Green Hills Mall before stealing $60,000 worth of handbags.


“We call them professional thieves; we are now talking about organized retail crime. The best way to put it is people whose job description is to steal,” said John Hassard of Robson Forensic.

Hassard has been in the loss prevention and security field for over 30 years. He said the retail sector was increasingly working to catch those responsible for these brazen and riotous thefts.

“Organized retail criminals generally don’t care what they steal because all they do is take something that can be easily converted into cash,” Hassard said. “They’re going to steal small products, which cost a lot per cubic foot.”

This was the case during a robbery at a Target in Spring Hilla. A group asks an employee to see merchandise under lock and key, they push her, then grab a stash of small, expensive electronics and flee the store.

“I can slip a bunch into my shirt, my bag, whatever I have. (Sell it) to a pawn shop or to a reseller, someone who buys for fun to stock their online store,” Hassard said.

In 2019, law enforcement arrested two men for conducting a multistate robbery operation at a Murfreesboro home. They were accused of stealing toys worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and reselling them through their eBay business.

When it comes to stopping theft, Hassard said many retailers have instituted “no use of force” policies that prohibit their employees from trying to stop or prosecute attackers. In several cases of shoplifting at Murfreesboro hardware stores, people walked straight out with power tools. Police said a man lifted his shirt to show an associate he was armed.

“When I entered the retail loss prevention industry 30 years ago, my job description included arresting shoplifters, period. We continued, we put some restrictions on the use of force, but it was very different from what it is today. As an industry, we have learned. There’s nothing in a store that’s worth someone getting hurt to stop them from stealing,” Hassard said.

Hassard stressed that this does not mean retailers are being lax in catching criminals, but that they are simply being more strategic.

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“Technology is always a good thing. We’ve been using cameras for decades, but now we’re adding intelligence to them, (like) license plate recognition,” Hassard said. “I didn’t catch it today, but I got this description, I got this car tag. We’ll add it to the database, we’ll start finding patterns. It is not uncommon for significant arrests to be made.”

Some of these major arrests were made through regional task forces, such as the Tennessee Organized Retail Crime Alliance. The nonprofit organization brings together retailers and law enforcement to stop and prevent retail crime.