Thursday, September 18, 2008

Must Reading: “Stop, Thief!”

I’ve just finished reading an article in The New Yorker (“Stop, Thief,” in the Sept. 1, issue—OK, so I’m a few weeks behind) that offers some interesting insights into a $40 billion-plus problem: retail shrink. The author, John Colapinto, presents an inside view into an industry that, as he so aptly puts it, is “virtually defined by its secrecy.” And in a feat I find truly impressive, he got Target Corp. to go public.

Colapinto interviews Target’s head of asset protection, Brad Brekke (he succeeded the legendary King Rogers to the post in 2001), who created a crime-laboratory complex inside office headquarters. Initially designed to combat retail-theft gangs, the labs have evolved to play a key role in the fight against “e-fencing,” or the resale of stolen goods online via Craigslist, eBay and other Web sites (Interesting tidbit from the article: Among the hottest theft items for sale on auction sites are Dyson vacuum cleaners.) The author was given a tour of Target’s crime labs by the company’s manager of forensic services, Rick Lautenbach. (Attention CBS: This could serve as the basis for another CSI spin-off.)

The labs include a “latent-fingerprinting lab,” where fingerprints not visible to the naked eye can be detected and recorded. Lautenbach explains how it all works, and then tells how the lab played a pivotal role in the recent case of a man suspected of repeated thefts at Target stores in Arizona. The man was eventually convicted of felony trafficking in stolen property and computer tampering.

Also on site: a video-analysis laboratory, and a computer forensics lab, where digital storage devices (ranging from BlackBerrys to cell phones) taken from suspected retail-crime gangs are analyzed. Target isn’t fooling around—its senior computer investigator joined the chain three years ago after a stint in the United States Army where, as part of the Computer Crime Investigative Unit, he analyzed the pictures taken by soldiers at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison.

As to the extent of the problem, Target asset head Brekke, in remarks made last year before a congressional subcommittee on organized retail crime, said: “In the most recent year, Target alone made approximately 75,000 theft apprehensions in its stores. By comparison, the total number of criminal cases in all federal district courts across the country is usually less than 60,000 in one year.”

Sobering statistics.

By Marianne Wilson

No comments:

Post a Comment