SPD's new policy limits ability to stop shoplifters




Posted on May 21, 2014 at 5:23 PM

Updated Thursday, May 22 at 5:43 AM

SPOKANE, Wash.— A new Spokane Police Department policy limits the ability to stop local shoplifters.

The Spokane Police Chief announced immediate policies that changed the guidelines for limited commission officers’ and how they deal with shoplifters at retail stores.

The General Store on North Division Street received the letter outlining changes for security officers commissioned through the police department.  The store manager said he wished he had an opportunity to offer input on the policy changes.

Before the new policies, commissioned security officers had limited arrest powers and the authority to cite suspected criminals for eleven charges.

Security officers caught more than 250 shoplifters each year at the General Store.  General Manager Jonathan Evans said his limited commission officers detained suspects, handcuffed them, and searched them for dangerous items. Within between 20 and 25 minutes officers could send them out the door with criminal citations.

The new policy prohibited limited commission officers from using handcuffs, any form of restraint or force. It also banned them from conducting pat downs.

“Individuals who refuse to be detained are to be released by the officer without further engagement,” Evans explained. “Try to find a shoplifter who wants to be detained.”

The chief’s letter explained that limited officers could not do any activity that might result in civil liability for both the retailer and the police department.

 “I’m sure there are liability reasons to why he did it, but it would have been nice to have a phone call or a conversation at least to express some of the things that concern us,” Evans said. “I’m sure there is a middle ground that will work.”

A city council member told KREM 2 News that the city or police department would be held liable if a limited commission officer were to be accused of excessive force. 

Store managers, like Evans, could rely on security officials not acting as limited commission officers as an alternative.  Under state mercantile law, un-commissioned officers have the authority to detain shoplifters for an investigation until police arrive.

The store becomes liable for security officers abiding by state law according to the city council member that spoke with KREM 2 News.

“The issue that you have there is when we are no longer commissioned, it goes from a 20, 25 minute process, to a two or three hour process sometimes because there’s not enough officers in the city to handle shoplifting calls,” Evans said. 

Evans said the extra time it would take to wait for police meant less security would be available to monitor the sales floor.  Still, under the new policy that was Evans’ best option.

“We are going to drop our commissions for now so we can continue to detain shoplifters,” Evans said. “I’ll probably have to spend some more money to hire some more security officers to put on the floor. It’s gonna cost us some more money.”

The Spokane Police Department told KREM 2 News that officials were still tweaking the policy, but would not comment on any changes.