Italian Journal of Criminology

The official journal of the Italian Society of Criminology

by Jutta M. Birkhoff, Chiara Pieri, Mario Tavani

Although that, what today we are defining as shoplifting, which is present since the existence of market booths with the goods exposed to the sight and desire of people, actually a great part of the commerce being converted by the model of self-service, which is characterized by contemporary “invisibility” of the proprietor and maximal “visibility” of the goods, mainly intending to stimulate and facilitate the buying of the client, this kind of predatory activity seems to be subject of continuous increase, committed, due to recent data, by one of eight clients, mainly represented by students, housewives and pensioners, at least once during their lives. The costs of these thefts are significant and in continuous growth, costs which are accounted for by the so called “inventory differences”. On reviewing  published papers concerning this phenomenon and after having proposed their classification scheme of shoplifters, arising from recent analysis of provided data, concerning shoplifters, caught in the act of the crime in two big Warehouses in the province of Milan, the Authors present some considerations about this “sub-category” of theft, stating for example, the existence of divergence in the jurisdiction domain, as far as interpretation of classification norms of shoplifting, in terms of grave or minor punishable offence, is concerned, resulting finally in grave or minor severe penalty. The majority of cases are handled at administrative levels also due to lack of complaints by the harmed merchants. This attitude is partially counterbalanced by measures of surveillance and monitoring by technical means and hired controllers. This provides for regulating damage directly. Coverage of those costs, as there are losses of goods and additional expenses for surveillance measures, is achieved on charge of clients by means of lifting prices. Clients, however, behave quite tolerant, i.e. they do not report on identified shoplifters and public forces seem to be overcharged by regulating more important problems. Shoplifting seems to be perceived not like a crime, but nearly as a ”normal” transgression, known to and tolerated by everybody, a kind of theft, which does not provoke social alarm. The responsibility for the crime is appointed to the public and public pays for that, hence a balance seems to be established again. However it must be questioned, whether this kind of attitude didn’t support the continuous increase of shoplifting, while the norms are existing but are rarely applied, hence their inobservance has been generated. The Authors therefore present their wishes for a new criminological approach in this matter,which actually is principally subject to social disciplines, in order to question about the potentials of criminological policy, and to define which kind of policy likely is capable to contribute to progress in this problem area, or if, in order to reduce the phenomenon or if it is only necessary to awaken public opinion to more civic education.

Professore Associato di Medicina legale, Università degli Studi dell'Insubria
Jutta M. Birkhoff
Avvocato, Dottore di ricerca in Scienze medico-forensi
Chiara Pieri
Professore Ordinario di Medicina legale, Università degli Studi dell'Insubria
Mario Tavani
Contacts: Jutta M. Birkhoff - Dipartimento di Medicina e Sanità Pubblica, Padiglione Antonini, Via O. Rossi, 9, 21100 - VARESE, tel.: 0332-217510, cell. 335-277261, e-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

From: Rassegna Italiana di Criminologia n. 2/2007



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