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Technology helping prevent bad checks

Published: Thursday, June 12, 2014 11:24 a.m. CDT

Technology can put two marks in the win column against preventing theft.

Union County is experiencing record low numbers of bad checks, which Union County Attorney Tim Kenyon credits to stores electronically transmitting the check as soon as it comes in.

“So far this year for bad checks, we have had less than a dozen complaints filed in Union County,” Kenyon said. “There were times in the past where we would file more than a dozen a month.”

But with the decline in bounced checks, there has been an increase in shoplifting cases for 2014. Thanks to video surveillance, most retailers in Creston have strong evidence for Kenyon to prosecute shoplifting cases.

“People do not realize that a number of merchants have video surveillance systems,” Kenyon said. “We can use it if there is a problem. It makes prosecuting the case relatively easy when I have a video.”

According to Iowa Code 714.2, shoplifting is the theft of a property not exceeding $200. Writing bad checks and physically taking something off the shelf at a store can both be classified as fifth degree theft.

“Stores like Walmart have their own loss prevention teams,” Creston Police Chief Paul Ver Meer said. “If officers are asked to respond, depending on the amount of items taken, a citation may be written or they are taken to jail. It is at the officer’s discretion.”

Fifth degree theft is defined as a simple misdemeanor and consists of two potential penalties. The first is up to 30 days in jail, or because there is no mandatory sentencing, it is possible that no jail time will be served.

There is a mandatory fine of at least $50, but not exceeding $500.

“Shoplifting has been fairly constant for us,” Ver Meer said. “We do see an increase during the holiday season.”

Time management

While technology has curved the use of bad checks and helped Kenyon gather evidence against shoplifting, the increase in shoplift cases is time consuming.

“Over the years we developed a fairly complete process for handling bad checks,” Kenyon said. “It was a well organized approach and it did not take a lot of time.”

When a bad check comes in, Kenyon fills out the paperwork, sets a hearing date and makes sure the defendent shows up for court. The court preparation and need to gather evidence is minimal.

For shoplifting, Kenyon said it starts with an arrest and communication with law enforcement.

Then Kenyon must gather the video evidence and determine which store representatives will be present for court to make a prosecution.

“We have to play the event back in real time and we have to play the whole video for the court,” Kenyon said.

He estimated there has been at least one court case a week involving shoplifting where video evidence was played for the court since March.

“It’s not magic or rocket science,” Kenyon said. “The video surveillence is set up in high traffic areas. It’s for safety, it’s for identification and if you are stealing, you are going to get caught.”

Ver Meer said popular items to take are electronics, movies, games and food.

“It is best to be aware of the situation, keep an eye out and if need be, call the police,” Ver Meer said.

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