CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Next time you’re in a base exchange, smile for the cameras.

Extensive camera networks in the base exchanges are primarily responsible for nabbing some 835 shoplifters who attempted to get away without paying for $154,860 in merchandise in fiscal 2005, according to Kathleen Czaplicki, Army and Air Force Exchange Service’s Pacific loss prevention chief.

That’s close to the number detained the previous year — 859 individuals who stole $127,103 worth of merchandise, she said.

“The most daring are the ones we call ‘walk outs,’ where they just pick an item and walk out the door with it, or fill up a shopping cart and try to take advantage of the greeter being busy with other customers,” Czaplicki said in an e-mail response to queries. “But we have caught several due to our extensive camera systems.”

But the largest loss, by far, was from store employees.

“Although we do identify more shoplifters, employees do count for a significant portion of AAFES losses,” she said. “In the Pacific region last year, employee theft investigations resulted in identifying over $1 million in losses with over 100 employees involved.”

Comparable loss figures for Navy exchanges in the Pacific were not available.

Retail industry studies have shown that employee thefts can account for almost 50 percent of a store’s variance in any given year. According to the 2004 National Retail Security Survey Final Report conducted by the University of Florida, employee thefts at retail stores in the U.S. accounted for 47 percent of store losses.

Shoplifting accounted for about 34 percent, nearly $10.5 billion in sales, up from 30.8 percent of the recorded losses in 2003. The remaining losses were attributed to administrative and paperwork errors.

“Because an employee spends much more time in the store … they have a greater opportunity to steal,” Czaplicki said. “They also have a higher frequency. Where a customer may steal one pack of cigarettes a week, the employees may steal one every day.”

AAFES employees are carefully screened before they are hired, she said, and those with higher responsibilities, such as managers, must pass a National Agency Check.

Anyone caught stealing can be prosecuted several different ways.

“If in the U.S. or U.S. protectorate property, such as Guam, cases can be heard through a federal magistrate court,” Czaplicki said. “In foreign countries, the cases can be turned over to civilian courts in the host country.”

Active-duty military and Reserve members are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice and can be court-martialed or subjected to nonjudicial punishment. Civilian dependents, Defense Department employees and contractors can face legal action through federal magistrate courts in the U.S. or administrative punishment, such as firings, barring from the bases or early return to the U.S.

Retail theft losses are chalked up to the cost of doing business.

“There is no way of making up for the losses suffered due to theft,” Czaplicki said, adding that AAFES has a program called “Civil Recovery” that allows AAFES to offset some costs by assessing a $200 fee on everyone involved in a shoplifting incident, no matter how much they are accused of stealing.

“This amount helps the exchange offset some costs, although minimal, for cameras and other costs related to loss prevention,” she said.

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