Shaming Shoplifters

Kitty McConnell

Like many business owners, Josh and Niki Quinn log long hours in their Short North boutique, Tigertree. After six years, the Quinns have bonded with neighboring businesses and customers alike.

So it was especially galling when customers shoplifted from them in early November. Most business owners would turn to the police. The Quinns turned first to social media.

When two patrons stole a $260 blanket, the Quinns wasted no time posting surveillance footage of the theft online. Shortly afterward, Tigertree Facebook friends supplied names and contact info, leading the thieves to return the blanket, although not in salable condition. "Every time it happens, it's coming right out of our pockets. … It does feel like it's a bigger impact, and it's definitely bigger emotionally" for small business owners, Josh Quinn says. "For us, the positive feeling and the knowledge of how supportive this community is is worth so much more than $260."

Tigertree is equipped with a $500, four-camera Microcenter system the Quinns monitor from their smartphones. In addition to circulating the video online, the couple turned the footage over to the Columbus Division of Police. They expect charges to be filed. Quinn recommends all small businesses install DIY video systems, even if they leave it to law enforcement to catch the crooks. "Obviously using social media to catch thieves is dependent on you loosely knowing who they are. Both times this happened, we were familiar with the perpetrators," he says.

Columbus Division of Police Sgt. Rich Weiner advises businesses to "turn the surveillance they have over to us." The police have a better chance of prosecuting the individuals, Weiner says, and business owners can avoid legal pitfalls that may arise from misidentifying suspects online.

Misdemeanor theft charges, including shoplifting, were the second-highest prosecuted offenses in the Franklin County Municipal Court criminal division, according to the clerk of court's 2011 annual report. Nationally, shoplifting accounted for $12.3 billion in losses to retailers in 2011, according to the National Retail Federation.

"I think shoplifting is everywhere, whether it's Easton or Polaris or the Short North," says John Angelo, executive director of the Short North Alliance. "Shoplifting is kind of a fact of life unfortunately. I think the greatest deterrents are one, in-store surveillance, and two, getting the word out as quickly as possible to other constituents."