Editor’s note: This is the second in a series on the effects and consequences of shoplifting at Luke Air Force Base. Next week the article will address the effects shoplifting has on the base exchange and highlight the security system that has cut the number of thefts in half since 2009, according to Luke’s Loss Prevention Office.
Luke Air Force Base Exchange security and the 56th Security Forces Squadron have caught more shoplifters through July 7 than they had all of 2012. From June 21 through July 11, five alleged shoplifters have been caught trying to steal from exchange stores on base – 15 percent of last year’s totals.”
Jack wanted another memory card for his camera while Jill looked to get a bottle of new perfume from the Luke Air Force Base Exchange. Unfortunately, both wouldn’t see payday for another week and didn’t think much of accidentally leaving the store without paying for the items.
When the alarms at the exchange entrance sounded, they thought, “It’s a false alarm, those alarms go off all the time.”
Fortunately, someone was there to catch them as they began their fall from grace, but it wasn’t who they expected: a team of law enforcement officers and legal prosecutors.
Though Jack and Jill may be fictional in this story, what happens to shoplifters when they’re caught and the punishments they face are not.
“When someone is suspected of shoplifting on base, Loss Prevention calls us and depending on what else is going on, we’re usually there in two to three minutes,” said Senior Airman Chris VonHatten, 56th Security Forces Squadron Police Services acting NCO-in-charge. “We check the videotape and if we see they put something in their pockets, we ask them to remove it. We then detain and handcuff them.”
Jack and Jill then thought to themselves, “We’re not actually in the military. We’re friends of those with military IDs, so we should be OK.”
That depends on your definition of OK. VonHatten and Glendale police have an answer for that.
“If they’re not active duty, reservists or guardsmen, we’ll call Glendale police who have jurisdiction,” VonHatten said. “The relationship is great between Luke and Glendale police. We know exactly what they want and give them all the evidence, with the videotape of the shoplifting. They arrest the suspected shoplifters and escort them off base.”
The shoplifters’ day isn’t over yet either. The legal process begins in the Glendale courts, the results of which could follow Jack and Jill the rest of their lives. If they thought they would only face punishment off base, they’re wrong about that too, according to Capt. Brad Sauer, a lawyer and 56th Fighter Wing Judge Advocate Military Justice deputy chief.
“Somebody could be prosecuted by civil authorities and still face administrative actions,” he said. “Depending on the type of theft, they could be banned from the exchange and commissary, or even barred from base.”
If Jack or Jill were in the military, their punishments would change, due to the case being prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Sauer said.
“The maximum punishment for a conviction in court-martial if the amount stolen is less than $500 would be six months in jail and a bad-conduct discharge,” he said. “If it’s more than $500 the maximum punishment would be five years in jail and a dishonorable discharge.
“It would be more common for a first offense to be dealt with through Article 15 punishment which could involve a reduction in rank, forfeiture of pay, restriction to base or extra duties.”
Sauer and VonHatten both said the UCMJ doesn’t get involved in most shoplifting cases on base though, mainly because the majority of cases they’ve seen involve civilians. Some of those categories of civilians include military retirees, their spouses and dependents, current service members’ spouses, children or non-military friends of one of these groups.
“In the past eight months that I’ve been working this type of action, we’ve only done one Article 15 for shoplifting by an active-duty member, and we haven’t prosecuted any courts-martial for shoplifting in the two years I’ve been here,” Sauer said.
VonHatten said the majority of shoplifters he has seen involve civilians, many of which have been service members’ dependents, either their spouses or children.
Official statistics compiled by the 56th SFS support VonHatten and Sauer’s experiences. In 2012, Luke saw 24 shoplifting cases and just one was by a guardsman, reservist or member on active duty. The previous year, just two of 50 cases involved those in the military.
When Jack and Jill woke up that morning, they never expected to pay more than $400 for $40 in merchandise. That minimum $400 includes a $200 civil-recovery fee the exchange charges and a $200 Glendale City Court fine – not counting other legal fees and paying for damages to the items they stole.
They also didn’t think they would end up in handcuffs or spend time in jail, the length of which could change depending on the outcome of their run-in with the legal system in the City of Glendale.
VonHatten has been at the exchange responding to reports of theft as a 56th SFS police officer and said many people who steal don’t think they will end up in Jack and Jill’s shoes.
“They really don’t expect to be caught,” VonHatten said. “They’ll deny it at first and then afterward, when they know they’ve been caught, they’ll say I’m sorry and try to prevent their base access or exchange privileges from being taken away. By the end of the ordeal, they are very cooperative.”