Shoplifting gone bad. It’s happening all over the Northeast Police Division, with 30 percent of business robberies resulting from what would otherwise be minor thefts. It happens when someone swipes a loaf of bread or a pack of cigarettes, and a store employee or even an innocent bystander gets involved, often causing the incident to escalate into a pushing and shoving match.

Are business crimes on the rise right now?
Through July 13, our business robberies are up year to date — 14 percent higher than last year — but at the first of June, they were up 31 percent. So they are up, but we’re on a downward trend and working hard to keep it that way. Business burglaries are down 11 percent for the year. (A robbery would include an actual confrontation by a person, and a burglary would be someone breaking in and stealing something with no confrontation, which typically happens when a place is closed.)

What kinds of businesses are being targeted?
Everything from banks to grocery stores to fast-food stores, hotel front desks, things like that. This also includes storage sheds, maintenance sheds and construction sites. Most of our business robberies are occurring at convenience stores and grocery stores, and that also includes the shoplifts turning into pushing and shoving.

Is this putting residents in danger?
Usually with these business robberies, they’re there for one thing: They’re in to get what they’re looking for, and then they’re out. Any time a crime’s committed, there’s always a risk, and if they happen to be in the place that’s getting robbed, of course there’s a concern.

What should people watch out for as they shop?
Usually common sense will tell you if something’s not right. If a bunch of people are hanging outside a store causing problems, that’s usually not the best time to go in. If you see somebody acting suspicious, whether at a store or in your neighborhood or anywhere, go ahead and call 911.

How should employees act if they see a crime in action?
Just like citizens, we don’t want anybody to get hurt, especially over property. Different stores have different policies, but we encourage business employees not to get into a scuffle. Some of these people are pretty desperate and will hurt you over a pack of cigarettes or diapers or milk.

What about residents — how should we respond?
The first thing we want somebody to do is stay safe and protect themselves, and then be the best witness possible — get a detailed description of the person, something they see or hear, license plates of vehicles, anything that will help track these people down. Some people are more prone to get involved than others, and that’s a choice they have to make, but we don’t encourage that.

Are there any special initiatives right now to curb business crimes?
We’ve identified all of our locations that are getting hit more than once and are having ICP (interactive community policing) officers make contact with these businesses and see if there’s anything else we can do to help them, like issuing criminal trespass warnings to people hanging out. Some people have these people in their stores over and over taking stuff, and then that one time it turns into a confrontation with somebody getting hurt. We have a few business crime watches in the division, but I really would like to get some more going because these guys will go in one store and into the next in strip locations. If anyone is interested, they need to call our ICP office (214-670-7770).