Scanning Careers in Retail Stores

Intern Stephen Ertle watches security cameras in J.C. Penney's.
Intern Stephen Ertle watches security camersa in J.C. Penney's.

As a Loss Prevention Intern with J.C. Penney’s, Stephen Ertle assisted in identifying and apprehending five shoplifters in one week trying to make off with $800 in merchandise from the Willowbrook Mall store.

Ertle dove into the world of retail loss prevention, learning the role as a loss prevention associate in a local store this summer. He discovered methods of theft deterrence and shrinkage control, how to use the store’s surveillance system, the rules and regulations on processing shoplifters, and how to keep himself and the store free from harm. He hopes to turn his internship into a management job in the loss prevention industry for the nationwide retailer.

A backpack was used to steal merchandise.
A backpack was used to steal merchandise.
During his internship, Ertle was exposed not only to loss prevention at the store level, but also management opportunities within the company, which include supervising loss prevention personnel in multiple stores and monitoring organized crime rings in retail. He also witnessed loss prevention at the corporate level in Plano. Loss prevention personnel also work hand-in-hand with law enforcement agencies to identify and solve retail crime trends. At the corporate office, loss prevention leadership can tune into surveillance cameras in any store in the chain to monitor shoplifters and employees at the local level.

“Loss prevention is a very open field,” said Ertle, a senior majoring in Criminal Justice. “Loss prevention is widespread, and there are a lot of opportunities available. For me, it’s broadened my horizons of what the possibilities are in loss prevention. I thought it was just the security guard out in the mall, but it is so much more. I am really passionate about it now.”

A shoplifter caught in the act.
A shoplifter caught in the act.
At the end of the internship, Ertle will present a project critiquing the company’s loss prevention programs and offering suggestions to improve it. The project will be presented to the corporate loss prevention staff in Plano.

Ertle learned the tricks of the trade from another Bearkat, Ricky Limas, who serves as an Area Loss Prevention Leader for the company. Limas stated that two classes from Sam Houston State University – Research Methods and Drug Use/Abuse – have helped her to identify theft traits among shoplifters and recognize fraudulent associate behavior. She passes this knowledge down to her interns and associates.

“The internship program benefits both the intern and the company by providing insight into a profession that is commonly misunderstood,” said Limas. “The intern is allowed access into the daily task of a loss prevention professional, and the many avenues of fraudulent activity that are investigated within the building. The company benefits by educating and changing the perception of LP professionals as just ‘security guards,’ which couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Security cameras used in stores.
Security cameras used in stores.
At the store, Ertle spent half his time observing shoppers using the surveillance system, which scans the sales floors trying to identify shoplifting behaviors. While he did participate in several successful shoplifting cases – and saw even more on camera that were not caught – he did not have the authority to apprehend that is granted to loss prevention associates.

He also had to keep an eye on overall safety in the store, identifying any potential safety issues and other potential violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

New technology used in security sensors, called Radio Frequency Identification.
New technology used in security sensors, called Radio Frequency Identification.
When he was not monitoring cameras, Ertle would perform sales floor surveillance attempting to identify shoplifting traits. He also spent time with store leadership, learning about broader aspects of loss prevention, including new technology that will make tracking and monitoring merchandise easier.

Ertle hopes to use the information he gathered to impress the corporate loss prevention leadership with his project and to land a job within the loss prevention industry after his graduation in December. He plans to come back to Sam Houston State University in the future for a Master’s Degree in Homeland Security in order to propel him even further in his career within the private sector.

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