How local law enforcement is working to fight shoplifting in Madison

The crime of shoplifting is a problem plaguing the entire country, and recent statistics show the problem is growing.
Updated: Jul. 18, 2022 at 10:20 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The crime of shoplifting is a problem plaguing the entire country, and recent statistics show the problem is growing. According to a study from, 54% of small businesses across the United States reported an increase in shoplifting, and 23% say it occurs daily. Madison is no exception, with the Madison Police Department tracking over 5,200 theft offenses in Madison in each of the past three years.

“I do see a lot of groups or individuals who come into shops or come into stores, fully intending to steal,” said MPD officer Jane Preston, who also serves as the president of the Madison Area Loss Prevention Association.

Preston specializes in shoplifting cases and says some cases are crimes of opportunity, but most are carried out by people who either pursue the crime as an income or a source to fuel an addiction. She says the weight of risk vs. reward is not enough to change the way criminals view the act of shoplifting.

“I think as a society, it’s not necessarily, ‘oh I’m going to get away with this, but I’m going to get away with this today, and that’s what’s important to me is today,’” said Preston.

Director of the Public Defender Law School at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, John Gross, says thefts of items valued at under $2,500 is considered a misdemeanor. In contrast, things over that value can garner a felony charge. But Gross says simply increasing the punishment may not be the way to address the problem.

“Conviction of a crime in the united states, even a misdemeanor, is very significant; I mean, just having a conviction on your record acts as a bar for all sorts of opportunities for employment for, education for housing,” said Gross. “So one thing we might want to ask ourselves, is our criminal justice system so punitive once someone is convicted of a crime, do they regard minor theft as something that they turn to?”

Preston says the MPD offers several resources to help people escape whatever life is driving them to the decision of shoplifting. She says Juvenile Restorative Justice assists people under the age of 16, while CRC helps people over the age of 16. For people struggling with addiction, she adds the MPD offers Madison Area Additicon Resource Initiative.

“What I always tell people is I hope you never have to see me again because I hope you take this as an opportunity to reflect on how we got here and how do we move forward so that you do get to the point to have a police arrest you,” said Preston.

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