UF researcher dissects the science of stealing

- They see you as you arrive. Cameras watch as you drive up, park, walk to the door, and come inside. 

"With this camera over here, we're going to get the license plate...We've got the things that do feature matching and facial recognition...These sensors also detect metal."  

The man with all the security is Dr. Read Hayes, a research scientist at the University of Florida. He studies the science of stealing and how stores can stop it. He has hundreds of thieves on video and studies their every move. 

"Here you can see how quickly he can get probably $8,000 worth of handbags," he says, watching surveillance video supplied by one of dozens of retailers who are part of Hayes' consortium to battle shoplifting and other theft.

It's called the Loss Prevention Research Council.  Hayes started 30 years ago as a store detective, but realized something was missing.

"My father and grandfather were doctors," he explained. "They worked with scientific study. As I went into law enforcement and loss prevention, I realized there was not only not very much, but maybe not any science to what we did."

The Laboratory of Theft

At his Gainesville headquarters, part of the building simulates a store with the latest theft prevention technology. On one shelf is Grey Goose vodka. Around the corner is a selection of high heels.

"Spirits is a high loss item, and vodka is the number one spirit," Hayes explained. "Shoes are extremely high loss." 

All of the products are attached to electronic monitors, mechanical noisemakers, or anti-theft packaging. It's all tested in stores to see if it works and if it prevents enough theft to justify the cost. 

Hayes also uses data supplied by actual shoplifters who are caught, but agree to answer questions in exchange for a gift card.

Videotaped interviews of offenders reveals what kind of security measures stop them from stealing and which don't.

"We're trying to really understand the thought process," Hayes said. "We've got to understand the psychology here in order to us to help influence their decisions."

Hayes added, he knows he can't stop all shoplifting, but if stores can institute measures to cause offenders to go elsewhere, he feels he's done his job. 

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