Hourly retail workers are now wearing police-like body cameras

Jun 5, 2024, 2:09 PM

Retailers like TJ Maxx are turning to body cameras to keep stores safe.
Mandatory Credit:	Eva Marie...

Retailers like TJ Maxx are turning to body cameras to keep stores safe. Mandatory Credit: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg/Getty Images/File via CNN Newsource

New York (CNN) — Hourly retail security workers are now wearing police-like body cameras at major stores.

Retail giant TJX, the parent of TJ Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods, said it’s equipping some store employees with body cameras to thwart shoplifting and keep customers and employees safe.

TJX finance chief John Klinger disclosed the body-camera initiative on an earnings call last month. “It’s almost like a de-escalation, where people are less likely to do something when they’re being videotaped,” he said.

TJX isn’t alone. In a survey of major chains by the National Retail Federation last year, 35% of US retailers said they were researching body cameras for employees. The manufacturer of Taser devices and other security companies are now designing and marketing body cameras specifically for retail workers.

Although retailers say they’re looking to cut down on costly merchandise loss and keep stores safe, outfitting workers with body cameras may do little to stop shoplifting, some criminologists say. Worker advocates say improved training, better staffing levels in stores and other safety investments will go further to protect frontline workers and reduce shoplifting.

One TJ Maxx retail worker in Florida said the body cameras were “just for show” and their presence did not make employees feel any safer.

The job of these security workers “was to just stand there with the tactical vest labeled ‘security,’ and the camera mounted on the vest,” said the employee, who spoke under the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.

“It feels like the implementation of this program with the cameras isn’t meant to achieve anything, but rather just something the company can point to” to say it is improving security.

Loss prevention workers

Over the past year, TJX has assigned its hourly unarmed security workers, known as loss prevention associates, to wear body cameras in certain stores.

The TJX workers who wear the cameras undergo “thorough training on how to use the cameras effectively in their roles,” a TJX spokesperson said. The company only shares video footage upon law enforcement request or in response to a subpoena.

“Body cameras are just one of the many ways that we work to support a safe store environment,” the spokesperson said.

The company did not provide additional details on training or share policy on when the cameras are turned on.

TJX is one of the only retailers speaking publicly about body cameras and posting job openings with specific details of the cameras in the job description.

The primary responsibilities of one job at a Marshalls in Miami Beach, Florida, are to maintain a “proper and professional stance” at the front of the store, act as a “visual deterrent to prevent potential loss/dishonesty” and wear a company-issued body camera. The description says that the camera is to record “specific events involving critical incidents for legal, safety, and training purposes.”

These employees, who wear a company-approved black vest, black pants and black shoes, are instructed not to stop or chase after shoplifting suspects.

Growing trend

The retail industry is responding to theft in stores and violence against workers.

Many retailers report they have seen an uptick in organized theft, which typically involves groups of thieves who steal items at stores. About 90% of asset protection specialists surveyed last year by the National Retail Federation said the crime had become more of a risk over the prior three years and that shoplifters have become more violent.

Precise national data on organized retail crime is lacking, however, and some analysts say the threat of shoplifting to retailers is overblown.

Body cameras are just the latest in a slew of security measures retailers have taken, such as locking up products behind glass cases and removing self-checkout stations. Retailers are also working more closely with law enforcement and devoting more internal resources to investigating theft.

In the UK, TescoLidl and other grocers have issued body cameras to employees. Bakery chain Greggs gave employees body cameras after a rise in sausage roll thefts and threats from customers.

Axon Enterprise, which owns Taser and primarily develops technology and products for police, launched a “Body Workforce” camera this year for retail and health care workers.

These cameras are lighter than ones Axon develops for police offers because they don’t record for as long and require as much a battery life, Axon President Joshua Isner said at an analyst conference last month. They are also a more “inviting product, instead of more of like a militaristic” camera worn by police, he said.

“We think retail is an emerging market for body cameras,” he said. “We think this is a logical extension of where our business is headed.”

The company told CNN that dozens of retailers are piloting Axon’s body cameras, including big-box chains and specialty retailers. Axon did not share specific chains.

One trial retailer saw a 53% reduction in incidents with the cameras compared to stores where employees were not wearing them, the company said.

Series of concerns

Over the past decade, police departments have equipped officers with body cameras to improve public accountability.

John Eck, a criminologist at the University of Cincinnati, said body cameras in retail “can help sort things out” when there are customer complaints over issues like racial profiling in stores or wrongful arrests for shoplifting.

Despite TJX and Axon’s claims, some criminologists say that body cameras are unlikely to be an added deterrent to shoplifters who already know that there are cameras throughout stores.

“I don’t know how much this will stop someone in the act. They’re already going in with the assumption they will be recorded,” said Ernesto Lopez, a research specialist who has studied shoplifting trends at the Council on Criminal Justice.

Body cameras could help retailers or law enforcement identify shoplifters, but that would require employees wearing them to get close to a suspect, potentially putting their safety at risk.

“I would be really cautious about putting underpaid, undertrained people in these positions,” said Thaddeus Johnson, a senior research fellow at the Council on Criminal Justice. “We have to be really careful when we talk about body-worn cameras.”

Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said, “it’s not enough to just slap a camera on somebody and say it’s an alternative to doing more significant safety measures.”

The union, which does not represent TJX stores, has advocated for legislation advancing in New York that will require retail employers to adopt a violence prevention plan and train workers in de-escalation and active shooters. Large employers must install panic buttons throughout stores under the legislation.

Appelbaum also expressed concerns about the information the body cameras are collecting and whether it could be used to stymie union organizing attempts.

“Employees feel like they are under surveillance,” he said.

-CNN’s Curt Devine contributed to this article.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union President Stuart Appelbaum’s last name.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

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Hourly retail workers are now wearing police-like body cameras