Type Of Individuals That Resort To Shoplifting In New Jersey

Interviewer: What kind of people could be shoplifters, are they usually repeat offenders or they do it once and they’d never do it again?

Ben Kelsen: It depends. Sometimes you have people who just want things they can’t afford so they just figure I’ll take them and what’s the big deal. Other times you’ll have cases where there are people who literally are just destitute and they need to eat. And that can sometimes be an unfortunate circumstance. Other times you have things that are mistakes.

It Is Possible That A Person May Commit Shoplifting By Mistake

There are things that happen, I had one case where a woman was in a store by herself with three children, very young children: one was a newborn, and then there was like a three year old and a four year old. And she was trying to do some shopping for the kids, you know for clothing or whatever, and so she’s putting stuff on top of the stroller on the handlebar of the stroller as she’s picking out clothing for the kids – and you can see that on the video, holding them up, looking at them like, ‘okay that looks like it’ll look good on the kid, and then putting it on the handle of the stroller. And at one point you can see – there’s no audio – but you can see one kid starting to have a meltdown and then the next one, and then the baby starts screaming, and the mother just starts losing it so she’s like, ‘okay forget it’.

Unfortunately in all that was going on, some stuff she put back and some stuff she lost in the baby’s blankets on the stroller. And as she starts leaving the store, security guard comes up and he’s like, ‘you’re shoplifting’. And she said, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about I’ve got to get my kids out of there, I’ve got to feed the baby, this one’s screaming. I don’t know what you’re bothering me for’. Or something to that effect. And they said, ‘Right there, look at that!’ and she was like, ‘fine just take the stuff I wasn’t trying to steal your stuff, just take it’, and they were like, ‘no, and they prosecuted her for shoplifting! As it worked out, we were able to get it dropped and this eventually took a while but we were able to get it dismissed. But that can be a problem.

Another Example of Shoplifting By Mistake

I had one case which was a very unfortunate case. It was just a little theft. Somebody was at a checkout line and their kid grabbed something without them seeing it – you know one of the candy bars or whatever it was – and the store manager called the cops and said that they were shoplifting, and they were like, ‘I don’t even know what you’re talking about’. And they said, the stuff that’s in your shopping cart and – it turns out the little kid was, I don’t even know how old, 3 years old, 4 years old – threw it in the shopping cart. Parent didn’t know about it, didn’t pay attention, wasn’t looking, was trying to get out of the store like we all do. And the store prosecuted. We were able to deal with it eventually but it was a pain in the neck, and it was a big embarrassment, and it was a big expense for the family. And it’s annoying because there was no intent, which really is one of the basics of our criminal juridical system. It’s what we call in Latin, ‘mens rea’: you have to have a mental intent to commit a crime. And this person had no such mental intent, in fact they didn’t even know it was there. But that didn’t stop them from being prosecuted.

The Nature Of Shoplifting Offenses Varies With the Area

Interviewer: Are there certain stores that get shoplifted more often than others?

Ben Kelsen: It depends. There are some stores that are the bigger stores, some of them are known for being careless. I think it’s more a question of the area than it is stores. There are some places where security is very tight. And so you have less shoplifting because they know that they’re in an area where shoplifting might occur. And then there are places where they’re a little bit more easy-going. In New Jersey, for example, Paramus which is a town which has a huge number of stores just because they have three, four, five, six malls, all the big stores are there – so those are high target areas.

Places where there are outlet stores or there are concentrated areas of department stores have high incidences. You also have them in low-income areas unfortunately, and those will be more of the supermarkets than of the retail stores. So for example in Paramus you’ll find a lot of Macy’s, Nordstrom’s Target, things like that, in Hackensack you may find  or in  Newark, Jersey City, Camden – you may find it being in Shoprite, DVS, Walgreens. Where there are people who are not so much looking for fancy jeans or a watch, but they’re trying to simply survive, and they’re people who are taking things like food.

I had one case of a senior citizen who was in his mid-80s, a veteran of the armed forces, so he was living on a state-income and just couldn’t afford food. And unfortunately he was stealing food, and we dealt with the case eventually, but it was very embarrassing for him, it’s very embarrassing I think for the community that none of the neighbors or the family realized that this individual needed our help. So those are the types of things that we see and again it depends on the areas.

A Lot of People Come To New Jersey from New York Because New Jersey Has Lower Sales Tax and Security Is Lesser than New York

There are a lot of people who come from New York to New Jersey, because New Jersey has lower sales tax, but also because security is not as it is in the five boroughs, and they’ll come in and try to go into a, let’s say, jewelry store and they’ll try to use a fake credit card to purchase a ring. And, you know the data will go through, and they’ll disappear with this diamond ring and the credit card company – well eventually it comes back and that’s basically shoplifting. But it actually crosses into another line of theft which is straight-out theft because they’re using somebody’s stolen credit card, identity theft, things like that.

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