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OREM — Some retailers are offering shoplifters a second chance with the help of a program based in Orem.
Corrective Education Company is a platform retailers can use on a mobile tablet when they catch someone shoplifting within the store. Instead of immediately turning the individuals over to police, the retailers offer those who committed a misdemeanor crime the opportunity to sign up for a education course in lieu of prosecution.
“Our whole goal is to actually reduce recidivism,” said CEC vice president of accounts EJ Caffaro. “We want to make sure these individuals get caught and are educated through our program, so they aren’t coming back and doing it again.”
Founded in 2010, CEC is operating in 1,000 retail locations in 30 states, according to Caffaro. He said 15 major retailers are using the program, including Burlington Coat Factory and Bloomingdales.
The classes are based online and Caffaro said CEC is able to check whether its students are actively participating in the course by taking pictures when a student logs in and out, in addition to random spot checks with quizzes on the content students read.
Retailers have actually impacted individuals, versus just kind of slapping them with fines and allowing them to go down the criminal justice system process.
If a student fails to complete the course, the shoplifting case is turned over to police for prosecution. Students are required to sign an admission of guilt when they sign up for CEC, in addition to having their fingerprints collected and picture taken with the use of the mobile platform when they are caught, according to Caffaro.
He said the evidence they gather makes it an easy case for law enforcement to prosecute if it becomes necessary, but that they would rather help the shoplifters improve their lives.
“Retailers have actually impacted individuals, versus just kind of slapping them with fines and allowing them to go down the criminal justice system process,” Caffaro said. “They’ve actually given them an alternative to better their lives after making a mistake, and a lot of these individuals have actually taken advantage of that and it has kind of changed their life.”
Detective Mark Falkner of the Salt Lake City Police Department works on property crimes, focusing on retail theft cases and organized crime. He is also the chairman of the Utah Organized Retail Crime Association and regional director of the Coalition of Law Enforcement and Retail. He said the use of diversion programs like CEC appears to be a recent development.
“If we can stop (shoplifters) from reoffending — wow, that’s going to really reduce our caseload,” he said. “It’s going to get those people who really aren’t the criminal type — they maybe just made a mistake once or they are someone who normally wouldn’t do that, but they saw a crime of opportunity.”
If we can avoid them doing it again, or take those who really aren't bad people out of our queue so we don't have to deal with them, we can focus more on the repeat offenders or the organized retail crime cases.
–Detective Mark Falkner
“If we can avoid them doing it again, or take those who really aren’t bad people out of our queue so we don’t have to deal with them, we can focus more on the repeat offenders or the organized retail crime cases.”
Retail crime has been on the rise in recent years, with the amount of damage caused at the national level doubling since 2008, according to Falkner. He said during his work he has encountered people from all walks of life committing retail theft, and that it can be the first thing people turn to when their source of income dries up.
He said retail theft can also be gateway to other types of crime, like burglary or robbery. If CEC or similar programs are able to prevent shoplifters from reoffending, it would be a win-win scenario for everybody, according to Falkner. He said theft directly affects the public because of lost sales tax revenue and increased prices.
“The ones who are repeating it and doing high-dollar crime — that’s what I want to focus on,” he said. “But when I have to process everything, every retail case with even first-time offenders — if that could be removed it would give me more time to focus on the real problem.”
CEC claims it has helped reduce calls to police nationwide by 42 percent. Of the shoplifters who are offered the option to take the course, Caffaro said 80 percent opt in, with thousands of people having participated in the program so far.
While working through the course, which is paid for by the offenders, Caffaro said students have access to coaches to help them work through the material. The company’s goal is to maintain a 5 percent recidivism rate.
“We’ve had people go from down in the dirt to actually going to college and getting a job now,” he said. “They’re building their lives the way they want to. It’s definitely more of a feel-good type of environment.”