By Michael Bielawski
This week the media has been abuzz over the sudden introduction of automated loudspeaker messages at Walgreens on Cherry Street in downtown Burlington. This occurs as at least one voice representing Vermont’s retail sector again is warning that there needs to be more prosecution for these types of crimes.
As reported in Seven Days by Courtney Lamdin, the camera/speaker system blurts out “You are trespassing! Please leave the area … This area is under video surveillance, and you have been recorded.” Neighbors are reportedly irritated by the announcements that persist at random hours of the night. One grumped on social media: “you really going to stand by a wildly overpriced system that does almost nothing to prevent theft while also KEEPING THE RESIDENTS OF THE [Ronald MacDonald’s] CANCER HOUSE up all night?? What a trash company focused on the shareholders pockets over the care of the community.”
CNBC reported earlier this month about how Walgreens and other major retailers are using new surveillance technologies.
“Major retailers like Walmart, Target, Home Depot, and Walgreens are using artificial intelligence (AI) in combination with anti-theft technology to combat organized retail theft, which has been on the rise in recent years,” it states.
It continues, “These retailers are teaming up with technology companies to deploy AI-powered video surveillance, facial-recognition cameras, license-plate and vehicle readers, autonomous security robots, RFID tags, and predictive analytic software. The goal is to deter criminals and make theft less appealing, preventing them from even attempting to commit crimes.”
The Vermont Retail and Grocers Association
Erin Sigrist, president of the Vermont Retail and Grocers Association, told VDC Friday morning the retail theft problem is serious in Burlington – and also statewide.
“So retail theft continues to be a major issue for Burlington but also almost every town across the state,” Sigrist said. “There’s a significant lack of prosecution, there’s a low number of law enforcement and we have to acknowledge this year’s loss of morale in that sector due to the disappearing support for law enforcement.”
She said that the burden of dealing with this situation has largely fallen on the retailers.“And in return, the responsibility has ultimately and solely fallen on retailers to take steps to keep their employees and their customers safe and the products on the shelves,” she said. “Retail theft in America is now a $70 billion industry, and we need our state’s attorneys to step up and start prosecuting these crimes. We need the legislature to acknowledge their part.”
She suggested that there needs to be a more holistic approach to solving this situation.“But so far the individual efforts to make things better for a single population instead of an entire population hasn’t necessarily been a holistic approach and way to heal our communities,” she said. “Retail theft is a major issue and it continues to increase and it’s rather disconcerting for retailers across the state.”
The city has been struggling with high crime rates recently. The police chief’s report in July indicated that a handful of categories for serious crimes including assault, burglary, car theft, and overdoses are up substantially for the year. VDC reported on the rising crimes.
Over the weekend there were more crimes, including a man who was intentionally hit by a car on Sunday and there were two shootings reported on Saturday.
Other major retailers are experiencing increased thefts. A report by TheStreet.com from Tuesday reveals that nationwide other major retailers are reporting increased thefts. Walmart and Target are highlighted in this report.
“Two of the largest brick-and-mortar retailers in the U.SWalmart [and Target] have expressed concern about the growth of shoplifting — and with it, the dwindling supplies for purchase. This cuts into store chains’ bottom lines and instills fear in honest customers, oftentimes forcing them to go elsewhere for common goods or groceries,” it states.
The author is a reporter for Vermont Daily Chronicle.