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Shoplifting increases 24 percent in Bismarck

BISMARCK -- Shoplifting in Bismarck -- which has been on the rise for the past three years -- hit a five-year high at the end of 2015. A recent compilation of Bismarck police records shows that shoplifting reports have jumped 24 percent.

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Michelle Kaufman, owner of Hey Ocean in downtown Bismarck, holds a sign she posts in the store's changing rooms. (TOM STROMME, Bismarck Tribune)

BISMARCK -- Shoplifting in Bismarck - which has been on the rise for the past three years - hit a five-year high at the end of 2015. A recent compilation of Bismarck police records shows that shoplifting reports have jumped 24 percent.

Many local business owners and corporate retail giants agree that shoplifting is a persistent threat and requires continuous effort to combat.

Michelle Kaufman, owner of Hey Ocean, 204 E. Broadway Ave., has been operating her local boutique specializing in unique clothing, accessories and gift items more than four years. She said shoplifting has been fairly consistent since she opened the doors of Hey Ocean in 2011.

"It's really hard on a small business like ours," Kaufman said. "Every dollar of merchandise was paid for out of my pocket so it really feels like someone stole my wallet every time it happens. It can be really discouraging sometimes when you work so hard to run your business and buy your inventory and someone feels entitled to just take it from you."

There were 601 reported instances of shoplifting in Bismarck during 2015, according to the Bismarck Police Department. In 2014, there were 456 reported incidents. In 2013, there were 398 reports of shoplifting.

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The months of August and September had the most instances of reported shoplifting with 21 percent of the 2015 total, while November and December carried 17.2 percent of the crimes.

According to the Bismarck police records, the summer months have a higher rate of shoplifting crimes compared to the Christmas season. In 2014, August had 9.6 percent of the year's incidents and December had 5.5 percent of the 2014 total reported shoplifting incidents.

Pat Renz, Bismarck police crime prevention officer, said there are multiple factors that could have contributed to the increase of shoplifting crimes during 2015 - one possibility is retailers are being more conscientious about detecting and apprehending shoplifters.

Good customer service and awareness serves as a deterrent, according to Kaufman.

"We train our staff to be diligent and to really be present with everyone in the store," Kaufman said. "We have had shoplifters of all ages and social status, so it can just as easily be the grandma driving the brand new car as anyone else."

While thefts held steady in 2015 as compared to previous years at Hey Ocean, Kaufman said she has seen an increase in bad checks and people intentionally trying to scam her employees out of merchandise at her store.

The North Dakota penalties for shoplifting vary based upon the value of the merchandise. If the value is less than $250, the crime is a misdemeanor with a maximum fine of $1,000 and 30 days in jail. If the value is between $500 and $10,000, it becomes a felony with a maximum jail time of five years and up to a $5,000 fine.

"We always call the police and file charges to the fullest extent," Kaufman said. "We also not only ban them from our store but call all the neighboring stores and let them know to watch out for that person as well."

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For the people working management for corporate stores, the frustrations of dealing with shoplifting can be a near-daily occurrence.

Alex Kranz, assistant manager of Ace Hardware, 805 S. Seventh St., agrees with the numbers. Kranz has been working at the store for three years and he said shoplifting is up, and it's bad.

Kranz described the method as a snatch and grab. Shoplifters will enter the store, grab what they can and flee.

"If they can stick it in their pockets, they will steal it," Kranz said. "They are in and out as fast as they can."

Shoplifters will watch and wait for any advantage in their favor, according to Kranz.

"They hit at times when you are low on staff. They will watch for busy times and shift change times," said Kranz, adding that it is difficult to identify potential shoplifters because they come from all walks of life.

Even the store's regular customers have been caught shoplifting, according to Kranz.

"We have had everything from grandmas to teens," Kranz said. "A lot of them really do think they are entitled to it."

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