Overbey bill targets professional shoplifters

New legislation in the State Senate could put more teeth in anti-shoplifting laws.

The State Senate voted 31 to 0 on March 23, to approve legislation sponsored by Sen. Doug Overbey that would create a new Class A misdemeanor criminal offense for possession of shoplifting tools used to disable store security systems.

The legislation comes after malls in Tennessee have seen a large increase in a product that is used to line shopping bags with a material that will not set off store alarms, allowing criminals to take thousands of dollars of merchandise out of stores.

“We are not talking about $10 or $30 worth of merchandise being taken utilizing this kind of shoplifting tool,” Overbey said. “These are organized professional shoplifters who use these tools to steal thousands of dollars before a store knows they have even been hit.”

Sevierville Police Department Sgt. Rebecca Cowan, who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in favor of the legislation, told lawmakers that last year Sevier County apprehended a professional shoplifter who utilized the device to steal $10,000 in a four-hour time period.

Cowan said these instruments, which are purchased on the Internet with instructions on how to use them, are not illegal under current Tennessee law. “They tend to pick on malls,” said Cowan. “They hit stores with alarms system and can get DVDs out of doors before you know they are gone. We are talking about mounds and mounds of property, and sometimes we can’t even find the owner because they have stopped at several malls on our way.”

The bill, SB 437, is scheduled to be heard in the full House Judiciary Committee in the House of Representatives this week. If passed by the House, the measure would take effect on July 1.

“Professional shoplifters are becoming more and more technologically savvy,” Overbey said. “This new law targets the tools of their trade to protect store owners from being victims of theft.”

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