Close-up of unrecognizable woman in stripped skirt hiding apple in pocket while stealing it in food store

More than 50 million people may experience food insecurity in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, including a potential 17 million children, according to Feeding America. This has led to astronomical numbers of families in lines for food giveaways around the country, often waiting hours.

It has also led to an increase in shoplifting.

Dennis Harrison had a good job that allowed him to pay his bills and take care of his family. Then coronavirus hit and without much notice he was laid off. He got two weeks of severance pay and was told he would be brought back to work whenever the pandemic lifted.

“It’s been eight months and we’ve been struggling. I’ve been in food lines for my family, waited on the phone for unemployment officials, applied for rental assistance and my last resort has come to shoplifting.  I’m ashamed to say this but we are suffering. Push has come to shove and when my children need food, I’m not going to see them go hungry,” he told The Final Call.


He’s among the growing numbers of people who have resorted to shoplifting to take care of their families with the basics of bread, pampers, baby formula and more. Fortunately, Mr. Harrison has not been arrested but his need continues.

More than 20 million Americans receive some type of unemployment assistance, and lawmakers continue to haggle over a relief bill that President Trump may or may not sign. The proposed relief of $600 to Americans is not enough for the president. He called for Americans to receive as much as $2,000 and has threatened not to sign the bill unless the amount Americans receive is raised.

While they negotiate, millions continue to suffer and increasing numbers of Americans have gotten arrested for shoplifting.

“The unfortunate reality is that social inequities still exist in both our policing and criminal justice systems and fixing them will be a long time in the making—just as correcting inconsistency of public policy will be. However, as so many retail CEO’s recently suggested, retailers have a unique opportunity, even a social responsibility, to bring about change,” Caroline Kochman, executive director, National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, wrote in “Covid-19, Social Unrest and Shoplifting: A Unique Opportunity for Retailers to Choose Education & Opportunity over Police, Punishment & Stigma.”

“In terms of low-level shoplifters and the engagement of police, the retail Asset Prevention/Loss Prevention (AP/LP/) industry has the power to employ a modern and innovative response based in education and opportunity over police and punishment—something that is now more relevant and reasonable than ever. More than 79 percent of criminal justice professionals acknowledge shoplifting as a gateway crime.”

She added, “Retailers can use apprehensions of first-time offenders to not only close down that gateway but to reduce repeat offenses while embracing a socially responsible policy. Adopting a policy that applies education over prosecution also extracts your associates from the arrest equation for low-level offenses and allows retail AP/LP to apply the values of inclusion and opportunity to every level of the community.”

The National Shoplifting Prevention Coalition launched six months before the coronavirus shutdown. They established an Education Support Fund to ensure that both offenders and communities in need have access to the education necessary to prevent repeat shoplifting offenses—a critical factor in reducing the cost to retailers’ bottom lines. 

They provide funds to help first time offenders meet their needs, learn from their mistakes and complete a special designed education course.

For Mr. Harrison he’s decided shoplifting is too risky a game. “I know every time I put something in my bag and try to walk out the store, I’m taking a chance of getting caught and getting arrested. That scares me. I wish the government would make up their mind and help the American people. We need help now.  Right now!” he said.