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Lancaster cracks down on retailers that don't go after shoplifters

The businesses that don't press charges would have their names mentioned in city news releases, thus presumably enticing thieves.

December 19, 2012|By Ann M. Simmons, Los Angeles Times
  • "If you commit small crimes and are not held accountable for them, pretty soon they become large crimes," said Lancaster's mayor, R. Rex Parris.
"If you commit small crimes and are not held accountable for them,… (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles…)

Lancaster retailers that refuse to press charges against shoplifters will risk having their names publicized to entice thieves, the city's mayor, R. Rex Parris, said Tuesday.

Parris said the initiative was needed because some retailers believe that the cost of apprehending and prosecuting people who steal outweighs losses from theft.

"It's just a balance-sheet issue for them," Parris said in an interview.

But the realization that stores won't take legal action emboldens criminals, the mayor said.

"If you commit small crimes and are not held accountable for them, pretty soon they become large crimes," he said. "We believe crime is contagious and the only thing that stops it is certainty of apprehension."

Ramon Ortega, president and chief executive of the Antelope Valley Chambers of Commerce, a nonprofit business organization with more than 500 members, praised the measure.

"It's a matter of deterring this type of criminal behavior," Ortega said. "You have second thoughts before you go in there and steal."

It's still unclear how many stores might be capturing and releasing shoplifters, but Parris said "mostly big box" retailers were the culprits. He declined to finger specific stores, but said he had asked Lancaster's Criminal Justice Commission to determine which businesses are not pressing charges against shoplifters and inform the City Council within 90 days.

The commission may coordinate withlawenforcement officials to launch stings involving phony shoplifters planted at stores suspected of intentionally ignoring or releasing thieves, Parris said.

Stores found to be practicing leniency would be named in a city news release sent to media outlets.

"Then shoplifters will go to them" and hopefully it will change the retailer's policy, Parris said.

ann.simmons@latimes.com

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