Editor’s note: This is the last of a series of articles on shoplifting at Luke.
When items disappear from some off-base retailers due to shoplifting, it hurts those companies’ ability turn a profit and benefit stockholders. However, when shoplifting happens at the Luke Air Force Base Exchange, the effects cut deeper.
“The reason the Luke Exchange is here is to give back to our military community,” said Katie Olynick, Luke Exchange Human Resources manager. “Our revenues are paid back as dividends to the morale, welfare and recreation fund. Every product that gets taken out of the store represents dollars the military community is not going to see in their MWR fund.”
The 2012 profits at Luke’s Exchange facilities turned into a more than $500,000 check to the base’s MWR, Olynick said.
Some of the venues that benefit from that money include: the Child Development Center, family child care, the community center, Bryant Fitness Center, outdoor recreation, Falcon Dunes Golf Course, and Thunderbolt Lanes among others.
Theft also affects other customers. Though items bought at the Exchange are tax free, Olynick said the cost of items goes up one-and-a-half cents per dollar to make up for the losses due to theft.
And like off-base retailers, Luke’s Exchange has ways to make sure they provide the maximum amount of money back to their bottom line, which in the Exchange’s case is Luke’s MWR fund.
Luke has a Loss Prevention Office which monitors a $77,000, more than 110-camera security system that watches the venues under the Exchange’s umbrella 24-hours a day, all year long.
“The cameras are in the main store, concessions, military clothing sales and express, or Shoppette,” said an employee who runs the security system with the Loss Prevention office. Army and Air Force Exchange Service policy prohibits identifying the employee by name. However, the employee has spent more than 16 years working in that role with AAFES at two Air Force Bases.
“The facilities are manned by two detectives at all times, and digital video recorders save what the camera picks up for well over a month,” the employee said. “We also keep photos and video on suspected shoplifters we may not have been able to catch the first time, so if they attempt shoplifting again at a later date, we can hand the evidence from the previous event to police, helping the legal process.”
Olynick and the Loss Prevention employee both said the most stolen items from the main store include women’s cosmetics and electronics, such as memory cards and DVDs. Despite the sizes of a tube of lipstick, or a small memory card for a digital camera, the security system can see when a shoplifter is at work.
The Exchange installed the video recording system in 2006. Since then the total number of shoplifters who take the product and its packaging or tags has dropped by a third compared to the previous six years before installation, or 473 shoplifters versus just 363. It has also helped the store recover more than $23,000 in lost merchandise from these types of thefts since the installation.
Other shoplifting events occur when thieves remove the product from its package, and leave the empty box on the shelf, or just remove the tags from the item altogether. Those types of thefts have dropped 45 percent by patrons and 98 percent by Exchange employees since installation. This represents an almost $69,000 drop in these types of thefts since the security system was installed.
Because of thefts, the stores under the Exchange umbrella have had to change how patrons experience the Exchange.
Certain items such as electronics are now stored under lock and key, and sales associates need to be present retrieve the items. Tobacco is also locked next to the cashiers and employees at the checkouts have to remove magnetic sensors and beepers, adding time to the routine Exchange visit.
“When you go to central checkout and people are checking everything you buy and you start getting offended by that, it’s not because we think you are a shoplifter,” Olynick said. “It’s just that it’s occurring, so we have to take measures to try to stop it so we can keep our prices low and our merchandise easily accessible.”
A recent trend has the Exchange and Loss Prevention teams concerned. According to the Exchange they caught 32 shoplifters last year, but they have already caught 34 through July 7 of this year.
Statistics compiled by the 56th Security Forces Squadron also show that just two of the caught shoplifters were currently in the military. The rest were family members, retirees or guests of military ID card holders. Stats from 2011 and 2012 echo that ratio of military to civilian thefts.
“There are always eyes on that store,” said Senior Airman Chris VonHatten, 56th SFS Police Services NCO-in-charge. “After working with Loss Prevention, I think they’re the best team I’ve ever seen. I have friends who work Loss Prevention in large retail stores off base, and I’ve seen what they do and what is done here. It’s actually really good here.”
One of the biggest concerns for Olynick about shoplifting from Luke in general is about more than just money. It’s about the people the Exchange represents.
“In any store, but especially here, considering what the Exchange mission is, it’s hurting your fellow servicemember,” she said. “Forget about the Exchange, forget about the losses the Exchange is having, you are taking dollars away from the MWR. You’re taking money away from vital programs that support and serve the military community. So every time you take something that doesn’t belong to you it’s not just the Exchange that’s losing money, it’s you.”