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Retail Theft in Georgetown - 'A very big problem'

Business community leaders weigh in on combating shoplifting

Monday's theft at the Georgetown Victoria's Secret could be a sign of a trend that alarms downtown businesses: that youths are descending on stores to shoplift merchandise.

To Georgetown Business Association Safety Chair Chip Dent, the "gangs" of youths represent a particular concern.

"We know these folks are coming back time and time again," said Lt. John Hedgecock, of the Metropolitan Police Department's Second District.

In Georgetown alone there have been over 80 incidents of theft or burglary of specialty, department/discount and other stores so far this year, according to a compilation of daily crime reports published by the D.C. police.

Ed Solomon, public safety chair of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, said that he believes shoplifting by groups of youths is on the rise as well.

“Crime is a fact of life and we’re doing what we can to try and combat it,” Solomon said.

Why now? Business leaders offered several reasons including that the weather is warmer, that schools are out and that the economy is faltering.

Businesses can protect themselves a number of ways:

Work with police.

John Wiebenson, the deputy executive director of operations for the Georgetown Business Improvement District, encouraged calling the police at the first sign of trouble.

"We can’t do anything about something if we don’t know about it" Hedgecock said.

Work with each other.

Wiebenson said many of the groups of shoplifters do not stop at just one store. Therefore business owners need to communicate who the shoplifters are so that all can be prepared.

"Be mindful of what’s going on and communicate it,” Wiebenson said. “It’s in everyone’s best interest to keep your neighbors aware.”

Wiebenson said that the BID holds a number of meetings so that merchants and police officers can meet each other and know who to call when things happen.

Technology and preparation.

Security cameras could be one option, and Dent suggested small stores to use a system where customers are buzzed in to the establishment.

“Larger stores should have practiced plans of action pre-rehearsed with employees and should also station either a trained employee or guard at the entrance to the store” said Dent.

As an example, after years of being "number one" on the list of stores with frequent thefts, now employs loss prevention people and become an active partner with local patrol officers, explained Hedgecock.

"Kindness."

Wiebenson and Dent suggested making customers aware that you have seen them and even taking a “kill them with kindness” approach.

“Reach out if something doesn’t look right. If you’re not sure, just call the police,” Wiebenson said.

Sharon Hays, owner of , a retail store located on Wisconsin Avenue said that kindness has always been her approach.

“My only ‘policy’ is to look every person who walks into the store in the eye, smile, and greet them with some friendly comment and, generally, just pay attention to our customers,” Hays said.

The BID hosts a number of workshops, seminars and meetings throughout the year that business owners are encouraged to attend. Wiebenson said that people should use all the resources the Georgetown community provides.

From a policing perspective Lt. Hedgecock and his team are trying to do a better job of following a case through after an arrest is made, "making sure the prosecutor prosecutes the case."

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