Officials suspect shoplifting ring

By Joelle McGinnis

An organized group of shoplifters is suspected by NIU officials of regularly operating on campus, particularly in the Holmes Student Center Bookstore, said James Harder, interim vice president for business and operations.

The alleged ring of shoplifters is suspected by Holmes Student Center Bookstore employees, University Police and DeKalb Police of shoplifting from campus and DeKalb-area merchants.

Two students involved in the Jan. 21 bookstore incident in which four black students were accused of shoplifting have been arrested for shoplifting in DeKalb.

NIU students Michelle Varner and Tracey Lewis were involved in the Jan. 21 incident and were arrested by DeKalb Police Feb. 12 for shoplifting at Jewel Food Store, 1320 Sycamore Road. Another student was arrested for shoplifting at Jewel but was not involved in the bookstore incident.

One of the students involved in the bookstore incident was involved in another shoplifting incident at the bookstore Jan. 20, UPs said.

Bookstore Manager Stanley Shedaker said his staff has found seven to eight black students come in regularly with the intent to steal.

Shedaker said the same students come into the store, individually and in groups, two or three times daily. The students spend 45 to 50 minutes in the store, he said.

Out of the known group of students, four have been convicted through NIU’s judicial system or the DeKalb Courthouse of shoplifting in the bookstore, Shedaker said.

“Students have come back into the store after they have been convicted. It was a game to them,” Shedaker said.

He said knowing the students have been convicted of a previous offense and watching them follow the same pattern makes it difficult for bookstore employees not to be suspicious of the students.

He said the bookstore has bought back nearly 200 stolen books from one shoplifter.

“Pressure has got to be put on to stop the problem. It won’t stop by itself,” Shedaker said.

He said each time the bookstore management develops a new method of preventing shoplifting, the students have already come up with new way of stealing.

One method of shoplifting the bookstore’s new security procedures should stop is the use of oversized bags or “purses” to steal, Shedaker said.

Some students have sold back stolen books so often Shedaker said he is able to tell which shoplifter has stolen them by the different types of fold marks made when the shoplifters conceal the books.

The shoplifters have their own methods of concealment depending on what works best with the individual’s body type, Shedaker said.

The shoplifters also have been known to steal books left in the bookstore’s bookdrops and return the books at Village Commons Bookstore, 901 Lucinda, before the owner of the books has finished shopping, Shedaker said.

Shedaker said shoplifters can be convicted within NIU’s judicial system or charged by the university through the DeKalb County court system.

He said several of the students have been convicted of shoplifting through the judicial system. Students also have been charged by UPs, Shedaker said.

The bookstore uses the university judicial system as much as possible in such incidents, but if bookstore officials believe a situation is getting out of their control the UPs will be called in, he said.