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Only a ticket for shoplifters? Data will make the case

Shoppers flock to the Roosevelt Field Mall in

Shoppers flock to the Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City on Saturday, December 26, 2009 in Garden City. Credit: Photo by Howard Schnapp

Nassau County has begun processing some accused shoplifters on-site at Roosevelt Field and Green Acres malls and then letting them go with field appearance tickets. The question is whether this is good management, as acting Commissioner Thomas Krumpter says, or a move that will encourage shoplifting and endanger officers, as Police Benevolent Association president James Carver argues.

The answer must be found in the data.

Before this new method kicked off in April, suspects charged with shoplifting in Nassau were taken to precincts and processed, which Krumpter says took cops off the beat and increased overtime costs. Now, when a suspect is accused of stealing less than $1,000 in merchandise and has proper identification and no active arrest warrants, the processing is done at the malls.

New York City does it the way Nassau has in the past. Suffolk County does it the way Nassau is now trying.

It's frustrating that policing has become so expensive and Nassau has become so cash-strapped that law enforcement decisions are driven by the county's checkbook rather than best practices.

Nassau County prides itself on a data-driven approach to policing. Krumpter says the new method could eventually be used to deal with other minor-crime arrests. As this pilot program moves forward, a lot of data should be compiled. Are officers more in danger doing the processing in the malls? Does processing at malls prove less of a deterrent, sending shoplifting rates up? Do suspects actually show up at precincts to be fingerprinted and photographed, as required, and do they appear in court for their trials?

It's easy to have a gut opinion about policing, but facts are a lot better. If county officials can improve police efficiency without sacrificing safety or crime prevention, that will be great. But they will have to prove it.