How Loss Prevention Programs Perpetuate Racism

June 23, 2020

Loss prevention on its merit seems like a reasonable idea toward preventing theft and profit loss in shops. The challenge is how loss prevention perpetuates a system of systemic racism through the profiling of people of color and black people in particular.

Retail shops serve as an epicenter of trade and are reminiscent of what the silk road was between the 2nd and 18th century. Not only is it a space for commerce it is also a space that inherently spurs diversity, conversation, and connection. Retail spaces should be where people find common interest and taste in how they express who they are. This is not true for people in black culture and loss prevention is a McGuffin for racial profiling.

Implicit bias is present in most people around the globe. Specifically for retail the concern is implicit stereotypes. Greenwald and Hamilton Kriegar (2006) defines social stereotyping as mental associations between a social group and a trait. Implicit stereotyping is at play when black consumers shop a space. In the Harvard study that promoted the idea of implicit bias condition pairings of black bad/white good and black good/white bad revealed a bias toward thinking that black people are "bad" and white people are "good." The criminalization of black people in media impacts how retail workers perceive black customers.

Gabbidon and Higgins (2007) found that black people were 10 times more likely to report experiencing consumer racial profiling than other races. This number is low because more educated black people were more likely to report discriminatory treatment. Pittman (2017) found participants expressed experiencing discriminatory treatment in a wide range of retail locations from boutiques to big-box stores. Pittman also found that encounters regarding suspicion of theft ranged from small browsing personal items to big ticket items.

The two biggest stereotypes at play are the criminalization of black people and the association of poverty with blackness. Many loss prevention programs focus on profiling people who "look like they do not belong." Essentially loss prevention training of any kind will push people toward implicit bias. This means in the "best" case inspiring the profiling of black people and in the "worst" case weaponizing blackness in police interactions at retail locations.

In the wake of police brutality we see more severe consequences of implicit bias. The same practices are at play in retail spaces with thankfully less severe physical consequences but the mental and emotional pain for black people is present and needs to end. Firstly, the bias is preventing return customers, purchases, and the trustworthiness of brands. Secondly, engaging in loss prevention training without an awareness and unlearning of racial bias is a recipe for an amplification of the implicit bias that people may already come to work with.

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