MALL COPS?: As shoppers jam stores ahead of the December holidays, claims of racial profiling at department stores in New York have helped expose the latitude that laws in at least 27 states give retailers to hold and fine shoplifting suspects, even if criminal charges are dropped.
BIG PICTURE: Industrywide, more than $12 billion is lost to shoplifting each year. The laws, which vary on strictness and fine amounts, allow stores to try to recoup some losses.
AN EXAMPLE: Under New York's longstanding law, retailers may collect a penalty of five times the cost of the stolen merchandise, up to $500 per item, plus as much as $1,500 if the merchandise isn't in a condition to be sold. A conviction is not necessary to bring a civil claim.