AAFES heads off shoplifting with outreach program

In the first quarter of 2011, 40 of the 61 criminal cases that have crossed the desk of Stuttgart Military Police Investigator Chief Darrell Robertson were for shoplifting.

Of those shoplifting cases, 32 involved youth under the age of 18, Robertson said.

And that shoplifting has taken place across Stuttgart Army and Air Force Exchange Service facilities, primarily the Exchange in Panzer Mall, according to Dandy Young, manager of the local AAFES Exchange Loss Prevention Office.

AAFES, which contributes millions of dollars each year to military quality of life programs, is focused on reducing theft.

“Shoplifting at the Exchange results in a reduced return on investment to our primary shareholders — the military community,” said Young. “Because the Exchange is a command with a mission to return earnings to quality of life programs, people who steal from the Exchange don’t only harm themselves, but directly impact Family and MWR’s ability to complete its mission.”

In an effort to thwart the shoplifting — particularly among the community’s youth — Robertson,  Young and several of their staffers spent the week of May 9 educating about 250 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders from Böblingen Elementary/Middle School about the consequences and penalties of the crime.

Daily, roughly 50 students walked from BEMS over to the Exchange for the eye-opening session on shoplifting, which also included a peek at high-tech, multi-screen digital surveillance equipment. Ashley Guerra, an Exchange safety and security assistant, demonstrated to the students how the cameras, which have a wide range of angles, can rotate and zoom in close enough to see a price tag on merchandise.

Surveillance is 24 hours a day seven days a week, Young explained, with cameras installed at all AAFES locations — the Exchange, shoppettes, the food court and gas stations.   

“So you know, we’re watching,” Young said to a group of sixth-graders on May 9. “Every day when school gets out, we’re watching to make sure students aren’t stealing.”

Young said merchandise commonly stolen includes jewelry, makeup, toys, video games and other items from the PowerZone, shoes and clothing. Those caught stealing must pay a $200 civil recovery fee and face a six-month suspension from all AAFES locations.

Additional consequences may also include community service and a bar from USAG Stuttgart installations, according to legal officials.

Young said offenders are charged for the price of the merchandise taken if it can’t be returned to stock and sold.

Sixth-graders Andie Crow and Jessica Ameter, both 12, agreed that the consequences of shoplifting were definitely deterrents for them. “I’m shocked that the consequences were that bad, not being able to shop or to eat in the food court,” said Crow.

Ameter took it a step further. “Not being able to go [to the facilities] is bad enough, but what your parents would do if you’re caught is even worse,” she said.

Perhaps even more detrimental is the criminal record that can follow offenders for years. 

“When the case is finalized, it’s sent to the criminal records center in the States and kept on record for 40 years,” MP Investigator Robertson said. “It can come back to haunt you later [if you] want to get a government job or a security clearance.”

Robertson’s words resonated with sixth-grader Jay Drof, 11. “I’m surprised that getting caught for shoplifting could be stuck with you for 40 years if you try to get into college or get a good job,” Drof said.

Juveniles aren’t the only ones shoplifting. Adults are too, Young said. Civilians caught shoplifting will have penalties imposed by the Civilian Misconduct Action Authority — the garrison commander. Likewise,  Soldiers face potential sanctions imposed by their commanders the Uniform Code of Military Justice. They are subject to loss of pay, reduction in rank, extra duty and restriction.  

Robertson said that he hoped the sessions with the youngsters helped serve as a deterrent to shoplifting.

“My biggest case load so far this year has been juvenile shoplifters under 18,” he said. “If we get through to one person that they shouldn’t shoplift, the training has served a purpose.”