Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

Preventing Shoplifting Without Police: Lessons Learned from Drug Dealers

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Mark Kling & Linda-Marie Sundstrom
December 14, 2021

In November 2021, shoplifters in scores of vehicles broke into more than 15 cannabis shops in Oakland, California, firing a total of 175 shots and stealing $5 million in product. After this devastation, it is estimated that less than half of the businesses are likely to re-open. One shop owner said he was safer when he sold pot illegally on street corners than he is now as a legitimate business owner.

Cities across the country are facing skyrocketing cases of shoplifting, and 12 major cities have just hit record-high homicide rates. This escalation in crime is occurring at the same time that police departments are facing drastic budget cuts due to the Defund the Police movement, and District Attorneys in major cities are refusing to prosecute a wide variety of crimes, eliminating deterrents for criminal acts.

How do businesses and citizens protect themselves when crime escalates, the police are unable to provide protection and when District Attorneys will not prosecute crimes? Can we learn something from the cannabis store owner who said he was safer when his enterprise operated on the street illegally? Will otherwise law-abiding citizens need to find new approaches to safety if the criminal justice system cannot, or will not, protect their communities? When the illegal drug dealers need protection for their businesses, they:

  • Make their own rules (“Laws”).
  • Protect themselves, their products and profits.
  • Enact punishment to deter future offenses.

Make Their Own Laws

In civil society, we rely on the legislative branch to enact laws to protect people and property. What happens when laws create unintended consequences that increase crime? In the past two decades, 37 states have raised the dollar amount for shoplifting before it becomes a felony. Advocates favor increasing the thresholds because they prefer rehabilitation options rather than punishment for offenders. The threshold for shoplifting to be considered a felony in New Jersey is $200, in California it’s $950 and in parts of Texas the threshold is $2,500. If people shoplift merchandise less than the felony threshold, and are caught by police, they may be issued a misdemeanor citation (similar to a traffic ticket) and released immediately without ever going to jail. As a result, it can be said that the increased thresholds for shoplifting create de facto legalization of theft up to the felony limits.

Drug dealers, on the other hand, do not care what the shoplifting thresholds are in their jurisdiction. They make their own laws that stealing from them, in any amount, for any reason, is illegal by their standards.

Protect Themselves, Their Products & Profits

Businesses across the country have created “No Chase” policies for their employees. This means if someone runs out of the store with merchandise, the employees are only supposed to call the police and not chase or apprehend the offender themselves. Unfortunately, with the recent reduction of police in many cities, and the increase in the felony shoplifting amounts, these calls are low priority. Most stores no longer call the police for shoplifting thefts. In 2021, the National Retail Federation estimates that Organized Retail Crime will cost businesses over $1 billion in sales this year. The only alternative for some businesses—especially small businesses and those in disadvantaged communities—is to close their stores and go out of business.

Drug dealers have the means to protect themselves, and often have a team of their own “armed security guards” surrounding them to help protect their illegal merchandise. As a result, it is unlikely that a passer-by would grab a handful of merchandise and run away.

Enact Punishment to Deter Future Offenses

Even with laws on the books, some District Attorneys across the country have unilaterally issued decrees prohibiting their prosecutors from charging a variety of crimes. For example, some District Attorneys prohibit prosecutors from charging crimes such as use-of-force against a police officer, loitering to commit prostitution, drug possession, criminal threats and more. Without the fear of punishment to serve as a deterrent, criminals feel emboldened to commit crimes in escalating numbers—which is the “consequence” of having “no consequences.”

Drug dealers, on the other hand, send messages to their “customers and competitors” that punishment will be severe and swift if anyone violates their personal laws. The consequences serve as a deterrent for people considering violating their laws.


We obviously are not praising the security model of the illegal drug dealer. But if our criminal justice system fails to provide safety in a civil society, what are the options for citizens in the future? Unlike government policies, private solutions are not designed to be equal or fair, and are not designed to benefit everyone. Individuals who can acquire private security solutions because they have the means to do so (financial or otherwise), end up creating a two-tier safety system—where some citizens are protected (living in a Justice Oasis) while others are not protected (living in a Justice Desert). Before we get too far down the road of anarchy, where individuals and businesses take safety into their how hands, communities need to re-evaluate the balance of safety, security, fairness and justice for all citizens.


Dr. Mark Kling has been in law enforcement for 34 years, 13 as police chief. He has taught both Public Administration and Criminal Justice courses for the past 20 years. He is currently the Criminal Justice Program Director for California Baptist University and came out of retirement to transition the Rialto Police Department to new innovative executive leadership. Email: [email protected] / [email protected]

Dr. Linda-Marie Sundstrom is a former Fulbright Scholar who taught Public Administration in Ukraine at a university under the Office of the Ukrainian President. She worked for 20 years in local government and has taught in Master of Public Administration Programs for nearly two decades. She is currently the MPA Program Director for California Baptist University in Southern California. Email: [email protected]

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (6 votes, average: 4.33 out of 5)

One Response to Preventing Shoplifting Without Police: Lessons Learned from Drug Dealers

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *