Chamber members get lesson in protecting business

Sgt. Darin Cathell of the Bethany Beach Police Department offered some financial protection advice for local business owners on Thursday, Nov. 2, when Captain Pete’s in Fenwick Island hosted the monthly Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce members’ meeting.

Over the years, local businesses have been the unfortunate target of theft. Be it an individual or a group walking in off the street, or an employee within a company, theft is something of which all business owners and employers need to be conscious.

“What we’ve done,” said Cathell, “is taken a look at why people steal and how they steal.”

Shoplifting is one of the more common crimes reported in the area.

“You do not need to take the merchandise outside the store to be guilty of shoplifting,” said Cathell. “If someone puts merchandise in their pocket or under their coat — if they conceal it — it’s considered shoplifting.”

In these situations, the action taken is the decision of the shopkeeper or owner.

“Confront them, call the cops, follow them – it’s up to you,” said Cathell. “It’s your merchandise.” However, he advises that physical altercations should be avoided at all costs. If there is the potential for physical conduct, “drop it,” Cathell advised, “and call the police.”

Prosecution of a shoplifter is not always an easy task.

“Do not report a shoplifting crime and request an arrest if you aren’t going to follow through,” advised Cathell.

Officers who go through the trouble of booking, issuing warrants and going to court could be wasting their time if the plaintiff does not show for court.

“In the moment, they’re mad that someone stole from them. [Months later], when it goes to court, they’re not so mad or they’re preoccupied with stuff and they aren’t going,” Cathell said.

Without the victim, the case is dismissed. Officers are left with unnecessary paperwork and the shopkeeper is out their merchandise. And while courts may also impose civil litigations on a shoplifter that require them to pay back the amount of the lost property, “It could take you some time to recoup your losses,” Cathell added.

Employee and hiring procedures are other things to take into account to protect businesses, noted Cathell.

“Make sure you are doing your background checks, state identifications, criminal records,” he advised. “Don’t hire someone who’s been locked up for 10 different thefts and put him at your cash register on Fourth of July weekend, ringing up sales.”

“It happens,” Cathell warned. “Businesses get shorthanded, someone hands them an application, they don’t have time, and they hire them. The next thing you know, they have someone who could steal from them, holding their money.”

Valid driver’s licenses and employment history are both important to have, he said. “Make sure you follow-up on these, too,” advised Cathell.

“You really have to do your homework,” said Cathell. “You can’t necessarily blame someone who’s stealing from you if you’re not doing what you’re supposed to on your end.”

According to BBPD research, many local businesses have poor inventory-keeping skills, resulting in potential internal theft with employees. “[Some owners] don’t know what they have until the end of the year. Lots of people are coming in, lots of merchandise is going in and out. The summertime gets really hectic.” Owners should take a tight inventory and keep records.

Video cameras can serve as a deterrent against potential crimes, whether from employees or from outside the business. Cathell noted that those not able to afford a top-notch security system can look for some added security in the form of a device that looks like a security camera, even if it isn’t.

Cathell said “flim-flamming” — closely associated with a group of thieves in the area known as “gypsies” — is another thing to look out for.

“They’ll come in, hand you a $100 bill and ask for a 50, two 20s and a 10,” warned Cathell. “Then in the middle of the transaction, they’ll change the denomination, and after you think you’re handing them the right amount of change, they’re walking out the door with $180.”

Cathell advised cashiers in such a case to close the register and start over, working slowly and clearly through the transaction. Reported to strike usually two or three in a group, they have also been known to have one member of the group distract an employee from the register while another pockets loose cash. In most “gypsy” reportings, noted Cathell, the culprits are a group of women.

Limiting the number of employees with access to the register and keys to the business is another intelligent precaution, he said.

“Make sure the people you put on these registers are experienced and mature, and you know who they are,” Cathell advised.

Changing locks and tracking keys are other responsibilities important to keep in records. Pens and markers used to track counterfeit bills are also crucial in any sales environment.

Business owners and shopkeepers also need to be responsive to the unauthorized use of credit cards and bad checks, Cathell said. “Watch people’s names on [credit] cards and checks. Get some other form of ID.”

The key to keeping businesses safe and protected starts with being a good witness, the BBPD officer said. “Talk to businesses around you. If you’re a victim, let the stores around you know who to look out for. Send someone over after it happens to let other businesses know — ‘You have to watch out for this guy or these women.’”

“Get descriptions of people if you can, and tags on cars. If you give us a tag number, make sure you can give us a state to coincide with that,” said Cathell. “[Police officers] need somewhere to start if we’re going to help you out. If you do your part with your business, you can save headaches.”

To contact the Bethany Beach Police Department with a non-emergency police situation, call (302) 539-1000.