UF to hold 19th annual, and largest, retail theft conference 

Dr. Read Hayes speaks across the country on retail theft.
Dr. Read Hayes speaks across the country on retail theft.
Courtesy Loss Prevention Research Council

UF’s Loss Prevention Research Council will welcome more than 470 attendees next week to its 19th annual Impact Conference, with plans to discuss retail theft and share research from throughout the last year.  

Dr. Read Hayes helped found the Loss Prevention Research Council (LPRC) in 2000 and now serves as director. He said this conference will be the largest in its history and calls it unique with the blend of academic studies with what retailers have experienced in stores and how prevention companies attempt to solve the issues.  

“It’s kind of neat because there are academic conferences in criminology or geography or sociology just like in any discipline, and then there are practitioner conferences like one that the National Retail Federation has,” Hayes said. “This is the only conference where you see both.” 

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He said the LPRC’s reputation and a growing need likely account for the attendance. The LPRC started by working with 10 retail companies—including Target, Walmart and Home Depot—and now contains 84 retail members and 112 solution members that includes a lot of camera, security and technology companies.  

Sessions deal with current research by the LPRC and other retail organizations, including studies around Gainesville and at UF’s Innovation District. Officials from JC Penny and Kroger along with LPRC staff will lead talks like The Retail Security Landscape; Risk, Reward, and Effort: Applying Situational Crime Prevention in Supply Chains; and Collaborating to Reduce Crime in the City.  

Gainesville Police Detective Sgt. Nick Ferrara will head up one session on face matching and organized retail crime. Ferrara was recognized by Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody earlier this year for his efforts in the sector.  

Moody said individuals like Ferrara make Florida stand out as a leader in combating retail crime. Hayes agrees.  

“To me, it always comes down to individuals and it comes down to sort of momentum, like in a football game,” Hayes said.  

Communities and local leaders begin to feel the impacts of retail crime and push back, gaining momentum, building expertise and moving ahead.  

Dr. Read Hayes said conversations about retail theft are on the rise.
Courtesy Loss Prevention Research Council Dr. Read Hayes said conversations about retail theft are on the rise.

Along with growing attendance at the Impact Conference comes concern across the country about increased retail theft. Hayes said the trends have been hard to track with incomplete data, especially if you only look at official documents like police reports, but conversations around the topic, he said, are on the rise.  

At the International Council of Shopping Centers conference he attended in Minneapolis, Hayes said the conversation centered on retail theft even though several other topics were on the agenda. 

“If you look at crime right now, particularly in retail environments, in some places that always would maybe make it to the C suite but not commonly. Now, it dominates,” Hayes said. 

Police can only report the data given to them, Hayes said, and often not all cases of crime get sent. Hayes said law enforcement battles with staffing that can lead to longer times responding to a retail theft call, leaving stores unlikely to stop and detain someone for that time. 

One emphasis of the Impact Conference is to increase data for criminologists and law enforcement to dissect, and Hayes says the amount of information, while not great, is getting better.  

The LPRC works with retail companies to increase their collection of data, and those companies open their information to Hayes and other researchers for review. The council now has dashboards with retail crime information and heat maps for cities like Portland and Atlanta and has one in the works for Albuquerque.  

The council also has dashboards for its host city—Gainesville. Hayes said the LPRC uses the city as a living lab as it looks at the impact of theft or closing stores.  

Hayes said its communities often feel the impact of retail theft along with corporations, from the trauma of store owners or shoppers may experience to stores closing and leaving town. The LPRC has begun interviewing those present during retail theft to learn about the effects, and Hayes said executives from retail companies visit the council’s labs in Gainesville nearly every week to continue working on the problem.  

“I would say, even though we’re 23 years into this, it’s still an experiment in itself, how to do this stuff,” Hayes said. 

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