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Shoplifting is more than just pocketing an item

In late December, Atlanta police busted two shoplifting rings that had targeted Victoria's Secret stores throughout Gwinnett County. The haul: More than $300,000 in goods.

The thieves would shove items straight from counters and tabletops into garbage bags and shopping totes, then flee the store. They sometimes would hit the same store multiple times each day.

The definition of shoplifting

Shoplifting, as it is defined in Georgia, is more than just boosting items from a store. There are several ways a shoplifter may commit a crime:

  • Conceal or take possession of merchandise
  • Alter the price tag on merchandise
  • Transfer merchandise from one container to another
  • Swap the price tag from one piece of merchandise to another
  • Cause the amount to be paid to the store to be less than the stated price

If the property value of the items stolen is $500 or less, the shoplifter faces a misdemeanor charge. A felony charge is levied if:

  • The property value is more than $500
  • Property is stolen from three or more stores in the same county in a three-day period
  • The theft involves anhydrous ammonia
  • The theft involves a grave
  • The theft involves a motor vehicle of $100 or more
  • The theft involves a destructive device, explosive or firearm
  • The theft involves telemarketing or a computer
  • The theft involves stealing from someone who has given you control of their money (breach of fiduciary relationship)

A misdemeanor could lead to up to one year in jail and a fine, while a felony could lead to up to 10 years in jail plus a fine.

Not enough cops to pursue shoplifters

Meanwhile, Atlanta police say they are too short-staffed to handle shoplifting calls in the department's Zone Two, which includes Buckhead and North Atlanta.

The chief of police says one shoplifting call can take up to 90 minutes of an officer's time - time that is better spent on more serious crimes like carjackings and assaults.

Police put the burden on store owners to use private security teams to catch shoplifters.

The FBI reports that overall property crimes, including larceny/theft which includes shoplifting, have gone down by about 40 percent in Atlanta from 2000 to 2014.

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