The National Association of Shoplifting Prevention reports that more than 13 billion dollars worth of merchandise is stolen from retailers each year. It is the duty of loss prevention officers to protect this merchandise by thwarting dishonest shoppers and employees. Unlike a security guard, who makes his presence known by wearing a uniform, the loss prevention officer employs covert techniques -- plus skill, expertise and luck -- to apprehend thieves and shoplifters.
Loss prevention officers are on constant lookout for suspicious behavior from both customers and employees. Sometimes known in the industry as “plain clothes detectives,” they covertly watch over operations on the floor, either in person or by monitoring activities on closed-circuit security cameras. They also keep an eye on places that only employees can access, such as stockrooms, back door areas and loading docks.
Although loss prevention officers do not have the ability to formally arrest anyone, they can apprehend shoplifters suspected of stealing and detain them for questioning. As an individual might flee or turn violent, most lost prevention officers seek support from their local police authorities whenever a shoplifter is caught and apprehended.
Because a shoplifting or employee theft case may end up in court, loss prevention officers write detailed reports whenever an incident of theft occurs. The events that happen during the apprehension can then be reviewed in the event that the loss prevention officer has to testify. In some cases, the officer also has to initially identify the person accused of shoplifting, either by looking at a series of photographs or viewing a police lineup.
Although only a high school diploma is required for most loss prevention jobs, a bachelor’s or associate degree is helpful for those that wish to advance to a supervisory position. Experience in loss prevention is also considered helpful; however, some entry-level positions do not require it.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies those who work in loss prevention under the category of private detectives and investigators, who had a median wage of $42,870 in May 2010. Retail loss prevention officers, however, generally fall into the lowest 10 percent of the profession, earning less than $25,760 annually. The job outlook in the overall field is expected to show growth of 21 percent from 2010 to 2020, which is faster than the average for all occupations.