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Leake's Shoplifting Arrest Fits Common Pattern

One loss-prevention expert says it's possible Mike Leake knew the ins-and-outs of retail theft.

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Upon hearing of Mike Leake's brush with Macy's Law yesterday, I reached out to an expert in the loss prevention field with six-plus years of retail store experience in Illinois. She also has the misfortune of being my sister.

I used to sit with Lisa Hardy on my days off and watch her work the cameras and the floor, effortlessly spotting abhorrent behavior I could never identify and setting up the cameras and employees for a safe capture of some of the most brazen shoplifters around.

I related the limited details of the episode to her, acknowledging that many details are only alleged at this time. "It sounds like he knows the price points," she immediately responded. The price points?

"$60 for six T-shirts isn't a lot. They probably didn't have ink tags; they probably had (security) stickers."

(Curiously, Macy's website lists American Rag t-shirts for $20-40 apiece, not $10 or even a misunderstood $60 each.)

Experienced shoplifters, she explained, understand store policies on when to use the more-expensive ink tags that explode when removed improperly. They will target the stickered or unprotected items to keep a low profile. Of course, there are reasons to go for the gusto: that's the good stuff.

Snatching the big-ticket items doesn't have to be a stealth operation, either. "One time, two ladies came into (my store) with a black garbage bag and an empty shopping cart," she noted. "They went right to the leather coats. One of them removed the ink tags and handed the coats to the other, who shoved them into the garbage bag."

In this case, she wouldn't assume money was the motive due to the approach, the merchandise selected, and Leake's reported salary. "Maybe it's more about the adrenaline rush." She wouldn't be surprised to find out Tempe shops came to accept a small Leake in merchandise due to his local success.

So how did Leake get targeted for his alleged activities by the Macy's loss prevention team in that store?

Shoplifters, no matter how experienced, have tells. Perhaps he didn't bother to look at the shirt price before grabbing six of them. Maybe he spent a long time in areas where employees and cameras typically don't congregate, scoping the place out. Even sight lines matter: the men's T-shirts might have been at the front of the store, but perhaps the cashier stations force the cashiers to face the exits.

It was fairly warm in Cincinnati Monday; did he wear a heavy coat with big pockets or wide sleeves? Not that he'd have to, mind you: six T-shirts fit in baggy pants just fine. Even carrying an empty shopping bag spurs an experienced loss prevention professional to turn the cameras on a suspect.

No matter the situation, the alleged shoplifter likely will be allowed to leave the store with the merchandise before being stopped. Otherwise, it's harder to prosecute. It's reported Leake left the store with the shirts.

An arrest may not have been required, either. Store policies on when to call the police vary. Some stores have a catch-and-release policy, choosing to merely ban the shoplifter from returning if the amount is minimal. (Again, this may be well-known to the shoplifter.)

"I wouldn't have prosecuted on $60 unless he didn't have an ID or the information provided didn't match," Hardy added. "Or if he was a dick. 'Do you know who I am? I have the money to pay for this.'"

The last word comes from Mike Leake's mouth via the Cincinnati Enquirer last spring: "I'm serious with my work... how I go about my business. I don't want one little slip up to ruin the rest of my career." Seems unlikely, but also remember the advice from one loss prevention expert: if you're going to get caught (and eventually you will), don't be a dick.