Originally created 12/13/04

Holiday theft watch begins



Black Friday brought more than eager shoppers to retail stores throughout the area. Police and many retailers say one of the busiest shopping days of the year also marks the start of a busy month of shoplifting.

"We always have an increase during the holiday season of these types of crimes ... It's basically the same old stores. Clothing stores, stores in the mall, anywhere they can take advantage," Richmond County sheriff's Investigator Henry Black said.

Though the increase in shoplifting isn't dramatic during the holidays, police and retailers say Black Friday - a term for the day after Thanksgiving because black ink represents profits - signals a steady rise in theft as Christmas approaches.

The Kmart on Gordon Highway has had 13 shoplifting cases this month, said Ron Williams, the security manager.

"We will probably double or triple that between now and the end of the month," he said.

Shoplifting in Richmond County has increased from 42 incidents in the two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving to 47 in the two weeks after Thanksgiving, Investigator Keith McGarity said.

In Columbia County, there have been about 10 more cases of shoplifting this year than last year, Columbia County sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris said.

Stores beef up security during December to protect profit margins.

"They try to get more security in here," Mr. Williams said of the Gordon Highway Kmart.

One way stores do that is to have undercover officers wandering the sales floors. They look and act like customers, but they're actually watching for shoplifters.

"We dress like the average customer in the store," Mr. Williams said.

Security cameras also play a big role in catching shoplifters, said Mike Markwalter, the North Augusta Belk store manager.

Because of increased holiday shoplifting attempts at Belk, the store has a bigger sales staff in addition to the cameras, Mr. Markwalter said.

"It helps to have a better and more watchful eye on the different areas of the store," he said.

One of the best ways stores can deter shoplifting is to prosecute all offenders to set an example. Some stores, including Sears at Augusta Mall, will prosecute anyone who steals from the store, regardless of the stolen item's value, said Alan Glover, the store's loss prevention manager.

"We prosecute 100 percent. If they meet our criteria for a stop, we will prosecute," Mr. Glover said.

A 100 percent shoplifting prosecution policy is the best way to deter thefts, said Detective Tim Thornton, the North Augusta Department of Public Safety's information officer.

"It's a good deterrent to know that (prosecution) is always hanging over your head, that if you go into a store and steal something, whether it's 50 cents or $50, you will be prosecuted," Detective Thornton said.

Penalties

Georgia

 •  Shoplifting less than $300 can bring a year in prison and a $1,000 fine.
 •  Shoplifting $300 or more can bring 10 years in prison.

South Carolina

 •  Shoplifting $1,000 or less can bring a $500 fine and 30 days in jail.
 •  Shoplifting more than $1,000 can bring five years in prison and a $1,000 fine.

Source: Georgia and South Carolina state codes

Reach Phil Watson at (706) 828-3904 or phil.watson@augustachronicle.com.