Retail and theft go together like oil and vinegar: They are inherently paired, but they don’t mix well.

Angelica Rodriguez, director of loss prevention, National Retail Federation (NRF) points to the latest National Retail Security Survey conducted by the University of Florida. She explained that respondents for the 2006 survey noted the highest level of shrinkage to date, an astounding $41 billion. Separately, NRF’s Organized Retail Crime Survey reflects that 71 percent of surveyed retailers experienced an organized retail crime from the previous year.

That is why the Law Enforcement Retail Partnership Network (LERPnet) has been in development for more than two years. The online portal launched in April 2007. Members include the Food Marketing Institute, NRF, the Retail Industry Leaders Association and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

LERPnet, a national database for the reporting of retail theft and incidents, has taken tracking crime and being able to use historical data for protection purposes to a new level.  

“It is an online repository where retailers enter major incidents. Retailers can set up individualized queries and automatic e-mail alerts to track incidents occurring in their area,” Rodriguez said. This allows retailers to be proactive in terms of their security initiatives.

The inclusion of the FBI has made LERPnet even more powerful.

“The FBI supports the system because it is an industry initiative,” Rodriguez said.

Participation is not mandatory, but it is beneficial. According to Rodriguez, there are more than 51 companies actively using the system, and 32 of those have gone public with their usage of LERPnet.

The system uses a three-level authentication process, which helps ensure those accessing the database are the correct individuals.

In order to use the database to its full extent, users enter incidents ranging from burglary, robbery and organized retail crime to fraudulent returns and fraudulent gift cards.

The system also tracks the types of security systems retailers use. In addition to capturing information about the crime, it also logs what security features were in place when the theft occurred (e.g., closed-circuit television surveillance (CCTV), door alarm and security detection). This information becomes increasingly relevant when repeat instances occur at locations that are using similar security measures.

Additional information captured within the database includes witness and suspect information and stolen information descriptions. According to Rodriguez, in an instance where apparel was stolen, the system would log the color, size and any other identifying information. For pharmaceuticals, the system would include logging serial numbers.

Retailers that have surveillance footage can upload it into the system, further aiding the coordinated effort between retailers and law enforcement. This comes into play once law enforcement and the FBI become involved, as this system helps them determine if they have captured the correct group.

Beneficial to many

Rodriguez said LERPnet is a valuable tool for retailers to add to their repertoire of loss-prevention measures.

“A lot of retailers on their own are very proactive, and being able to tap into LERPnet helps them even more. Retailers, like all other companies, try to maximize their financial and human resources, and this system helps them do their jobs more efficiently,” she said.

The system still is growing as more subscribers start using it to its full potential. As with most database-rooted solutions, the system becomes more useful with more information. This coordinated effort will be beneficial to all users.

“[LERPnet] has the potential to be very powerful once it is fully developed,” Rodriguez said.

Membership is by paid subscription, which runs around $1,200 per year and is open to all retailers, regardless of niche. Users include pharmacies; big box retailers such as Wal-Mart, Walgreens and Circuit City; jewelers; grocery stores; and everyone in between.

Time will tell what the benefits associated with this collaborative database mean to the retail community. Hopes hang on to the system’s inherent ability to use past incidents to predict future behavior. The goal is to get as many active participants as possible in order to make LERPnet the success it has the ability to become.   

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at JenLeahS@msn.com.