shoplift

This sign in Cloud Nine in downtown Alexander City warns customers and potential shoplifters they are being recorded by a video surveillance system.

Some shoplifters take what isn’t theirs because they don’t have money, others do it for the thrill and some have a lot of audacity. Call it nerves of steal.

“We had a woman who stole a dress and brought it back and wanted her money back,” Cloud Nine co-owner Sarah Neighbors said.

“We’ve had people look right at the camera and take stuff,” store manager Amanda Silavent added.

Most of the stolen items are of little worth which is why the majority of shoplifters in Alexander City are charged with fourth-degree theft, a misdemeanor involving merchandise valued under $500. But some of the thieves are more brazen and organized.

“We’ve seen them steal lawnmowers, a buggy full of stuff, just load it up and go out,” Alexander City deputy police chief James Easterwood said. “We’ve had mother-daughter teams.”

But incidents of shoplifting seem to be declining in Alexander City due to a change in policy instituted by police chief Jay Turner about six months ago.

“An officer can now make an arrest if they develop probable cause and don’t have to wait for the merchant to file a warrant,” Easterwood said. “It was felt that would deter it even more and it has.”

So far this month there have been five reports of fourth-degree theft. There were 20 in July and about 40 a month before the policy changed, Easterwood said.

A woman was arrested after going on a shoplifting spree in two stores on Main Street on her birthday Thursday but that is an exception, Easterwood said.

“There aren’t as many on Main Street,” Easterwood said. “It seems like the employees there look for that kind of stuff. It’s mainly Walmart, Winn Dixie, Piggly Wiggly, Home Depot and Dollar General. There are more people (shopping there) and more distracted workers.”

Easterwood said many shoplifters are amateurs and are most often caught in the act.

“A lot of times they don’t care if they are caught or not but that has slowed down,” he said. “Some of the businesses don’t find out until afterward.”

The person involved in the shoplifting incidents Thursday was skilled at taking items in a short period of time — employees at Cloud Nine and Half Moon said the suspect took jewelry and clothes worth $358 — but was apprehended in Cloud Nine’s dressing room in possession of stolen merchandise, all of which was returned. The suspect was charged with fourth-degree theft and released on a signature bond, according to Alexander City police Cpl. Tyler Lashley.

“She was very quick,” Lashley said. “We watched the (surveillance) video and if you didn’t know what you were looking for you wouldn’t have known what she was doing. She was very smooth. Even watching the video, you had to pay close attention.”

Silavent and Neighbors said the suspect worked swiftly but her attempts to cleverly conceal the merchandise didn’t work.

“She took a purse from here and put her makeup in it to make it look like hers,” Silavent said. “She told (the police) it was hers. Most of the stuff was in her pockets. She took a belt from us and took the tag off and put it on her jeans. She had one of our bracelets on her arm and took the tag off.”

However, Neighbors said the suspect left a loose end.

“She had a ring with a tag on it hanging out of a makeup container and she said, ‘I don’t know how that got in there,’” Neighbors said.

After the arrest, Lashley said the suspect was distraught and Neighbors said she was apologetic but Neighbors and Half Moon co-owner Robin Holcombe plan to press charges.

“We’re not going to allow this,” Neighbors said. “We are watching out for each other.”

Easterwood said most shoplifters can afford what they decide to steal.

“The majority of them have the money to buy the merchandise but they just choose not to,” he said.

Easterwood acknowledged some shoplifters steal food because they don’t have money and in some of those cases the police and business owners have been understanding.

“We’ve had situations where officers will buy the food if we know that’s the situation and the owner is OK with it,” Easterwood said.

The law enables misdemeanors to become felonies if business owners don’t want someone proven to be a shoplifter to return to their premises.

“A lot of business owners will sign papers on them for trespassing,” Easterwood said. “If they come back in the store and shoplift, they can be charged with burglary, which is a felony. If an asset forfeiture person or an employee tries to stop someone and it becomes a physical altercation, it can be upgraded to robbery.”