The Science of Stealing: Researchers study shoplifting at UF's 'Safer Places Lab'

The need to cut back on retail theft is a worldwide issue. One in four Americans work in retail, and crime aimed at those stores is on the rise. Organized retail crime is up 26%, the latest studies show. 

It turns out, retailers across the globe are turning to researchers with the University of Florida to fix the issue. 

Cory Lowe with UF"s Loss Prevention Research Council (or LPRC) walked FOX 35 through what the team calls its Simulation Lab. 

That’s a 270-degree screen where researchers show off surveillance video submitted by different retail stores that partner with the LPRC. The researchers bring in self-reported former thieves and walk them through different scenarios in stores, getting their input on what they think would work and what wouldn’t.

"That’s one of the wildest things is like, we have these monitors, and you wouldn’t think they would be effective, but every time I bring a self-reported offender into the lab, it freaks them out, because they see their face on that screen, and they make that connection that they are being recorded," explained Lowe. 

But you have to be careful – if you overdo it, you might make regular customers uncomfortable. They may believe a store is particularly prone to crime if they see too many security technologies, which may then make them feel unsafe. 

The LPRC doesn’t stop there, though. Inside the Engagement Lab, they have a couple dozen cameras, each with different analytics, and over 200 product protection solutions they’re experimenting with. 

That includes new types of tags, new cables, new alarms – anything you can think of, and tons of stuff you haven’t thought of yet. 

One idea, for instance, is new power tools that have chips inside that need to be activated via Bluetooth before they’ll work. That way, if people steal them, they’ll be useless for resale.

Another new idea is re-vamped lockboxes. Currently, customers have to press a button and wait for an employee to unlock the box. With new lockboxes, you can put in your phone number to get a code to open the box. That lets customers access the products they need and protects the store because it gives a way to track the person getting into the lockbox. 

Dr. Reid Hayes is the Director of the LPRC.

"There really is nothing else like this in the world," he told FOX 35.

That Council has 76 partners all over the globe using its tech. 

They’re fighting what the National Retail Federation estimates is a nearly $100 billion problem that’s becoming more common and more violent: organized retail theft. 

"I think right now, the main innovation we’re excited about is the integrated solutions that we’re working on with technology corporations and with multiple law enforcement agencies," said Dr. Hayes.

The LPRC says there are three main ways to reduce retail theft in general.

Make it harder for people to steal; make people afraid of the consequences they’ll face if they steal; and lessen the reward for selling stolen goods.