Needed Change at the WORCC

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The WORCC

The Wichita Organized Retail Crime Coalition is an organization comprised of federal, state, county, and local law enforcement agencies working hand in hand with regional and local asset protection and loss prevention officers from the major retail establishments within varied jurisdictions.

Until 2010, the WORCC was a loosely organized group of retailers who would share information with one another when they could. This was often frowned upon by the different corporate entities due to corporate policies that restricted information exchanges with competitors. Those who did share information were often subject to disciplinary actions up to and including termination.

In early 2010, this mentality in the retail environment began to change due in great part to rise in Organized Retail Crime and the attention the media was beginning to give it. Throughout the country, small organizations began to pop up, and retailers and law enforcement alike were beginning to see the benefit of getting involved. In turn, retailers began to seek out the loosely organized group to both share and acquire information about suspects who were impacting their businesses almost daily.

Because of this obvious need, regional leaders from Target, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, J.C. Penney, Sears, and more, decided to formalize the creation of an organization geared towards sharing information. Within a few months, membership had grown to include many different law enforcement agencies, security companies, retailers, and federal agencies including the ATF, the KBI, the FBI, and more. Shortly after, the District Attorney got involved as it was discovered that this organization was a wealth of information on different criminals going to trial. Conviction rates were going up accordingly as were their sentences.

Eventually, the different agencies began holding training classes covering topics from explosives, financial crimes, fencing, and more. The organization had turned into a solid training community comprised of all different disciplines and areas of expertise. In turn, the better-trained asset protection and loss prevention officers were seeking out new threats and discovered yet more areas of fraud. The better-trained authorities began to have a higher degree of appreciation for the retail asset protection and loss prevention roles. The constant exchanged of information and ideas about the best practices in regard to combating the many different crimes faced by the community has been priceless. The impact not only affects the retailers, but the impact on the community in regard to lost wages and lost tax revenue is hard to overstate.

The Problem

As the WORCC has grown, several problems have emerged that cannot be ignored. These problems include a structure based on and relying upon a single individual in regard to information exchange, an organizational structure that varies depending on participation, and membership of retailers that varies depending on turnover. This equates to an easy breakdown of both information exchange, but also the organization itself if something were to happen to the current leadership.

At the time of this entry, the structure of the organization revolves around one individual. This person fields the emails, the distribution, and meeting days, the setups, the break-downs, and even the snacks at the meetings. This is obviously a lot to take on as the information flow is constant and the load varies.

The structure of the organization and the meetings depend greatly on the participation. Sometimes, certain agencies will show up that are not normally an active part of the organization, and their information can sometimes take over what should have been a normal and necessary meeting. Some retailers are not always present this is often a problem when their particular brands are being impacted or fenced to other organizations.

Retailer involvement tends to fall on the shoulders of the asset protection or loss prevention manager’s willingness to participate. This also means that if this individual leaves the job or takes another position, the membership or involvement of this particular retailer may come and go depending on whether or not the replacement is even aware that the WORCC even exists or if they feel their involvement would be beneficial.

Comparison of Strategies Considered for the Initiative

There have been several ideas brought up to help combat these particular issues.  One idea included paid membership, which would ultimately help pay for the meetings space, snacks, and technology used during the meetings. It was theorized that this would also ensure ownership and participation. However, it was deemed a rather bad strategy considering it would be the retailer or agency that ultimately paid for the membership and would not necessarily equate into ownership by the manger or agency representative.

Another idea was to send out mailers to the different retailers providing the necessary information. This would be an effort to ensure that the many different retailers would be aware of the organization and would have a chance to participate. However, it was discovered that such mailers would often be treated as “junk mail” once received by stakeholders and would more than likely not reach the intended recipient anyway. Furthermore, the cost of such a program was significant enough that it was ultimately abandoned.

Yet another idea was to allow people to email blast the entire organization as information became available. However, this led to information chaos as not everyone had the same mailing lists and duplicate entries were rampant. There was also little ability to act upon the information as sometimes the structure or details of the information being provided were incomplete and unscreened.  

Implementation of Strategy

The goal of any change is to improve the current function and operation within the organization and to ensure its success moving forward. The WORCC needs to solidify its membership in regard to the numerous agencies involved while encouraging membership from agencies who have yet to get involved.

This can be done if a solid meeting date is agreed upon by the current membership. A simple solution for this could be that meetings are held the first Wednesday of every other month. Over time, it would simply be common knowledge that this was the case. If turnover in an organization occurred, those who remained would undoubtedly still know about it and could inform the new manager of its existence.

The WORCC also needs to recreate the structure of the organization to ensure the continuity of the organization in the event that something occurs to the current leadership. The information will still need to be exchanged, meetings will still need to be held, and the WORCC will need to continue on regardless of the current leader’s status. 

This can be overcome if the leadership is shared and the members have an active role in choosing their leaders. Leadership could be voted on by the organization’s participants and should encompass at least more than one person. These leaders could take turns holding meetings, or any other tasks necessary, but doing so would ensure the continuation of the organization. If one leader either left the organization or something catastrophic occurred, a new leader would be voted upon and the organization would survive with minimal obstruction. This secondary leader or “vice” would ensure the strategy, structure, processes, and potential rewards the organization holds for its current members and all would not be lost if the current leader disappeared (Anderson, 2012).

The way in which information is exchanged must also be adjusted to ensure that the appropriate information can continue to be exchanged between agencies without fail. While this relates substantially to the previous point, the fact remains that this piece should not have to rely on any single individual. Doing so jeopardizes the point of the organization and could greatly hinder future pursuits and objectives if something were to happen to the current leader.

This could be accomplished using a shared system of information exchange. Today, there are numerous services and capabilities in regard to technology that can help achieve this goal. The WORCC’s information exchange revolves around two basic exchanges: pictures and text information. The current way of exchange is that a member will email the leader with a picture and necessary information, the leader then forwards it out to the other members. If the members get a hit, they will either email the person directly or email the leader who then emails the sending member. By utilizing software such as Open Text or utilizing companies like NEXOR who specialize in creating custom information exchange systems, the WORCC could create a database of offenders. The proposed system (or something similar) is a great place to start because these systems offer integrated exchange systems including encrypted email, large file transfer, and user notifications (OpenText, 2014).

While this system would have a cost to it, the benefits would be great. A user could input the information of the offense, the offender, and any other pertinent details of the event. Then, the user could attach pictures of the offender and the vehicle being used. Upon submission, it could be automatically emailed to the other members who can then act upon or add to the information. Such added information could include whether or not they were impacted too, current police cases, additional pictures, and more. Potentially, this system could integrate aspects of state systems such as the Kansas Adult Supervised Population Electronic Repository (KASPER) that provides information through a state-run website on current or past offenders already listed in the Kansas Criminal Justice Information System, pursuant to the Kansas Open Records Act (K.S.A. 45-221) (Roberts, 2014).

As mentioned, this system would track open police cases on offenders as well. This would be a tremendous benefit for the prosecutors who access the database and build their cases accordingly. If space provides, CCTV video could also be uploaded if state law permits. Being that this system would be such a benefit for the DA, it is assumed that some of the cost could be picked up by the local or state governing authority.

These changes would have to be implemented on a structured timeline. The leadership change could happen as soon as the next meeting. A detailed explanation of the necessary changes would have to be provided to the members, and a new leader to join the current leader could be nominated and voted on immediately. It would be recommended that the current leader remain so as to teach and share the responsibility of moving forward with the new “vice”.

The solid meeting date could also be addressed in the next WORCC meeting. This too could be agreed to by consensus. The actual day of the following meetings would be set and followed from that day forward. Any changes or alterations to this date could be handled by a simple vote when circumstances dictate. Examples of deviation could include holidays.

The software for the information exchange would undoubtedly take some time to build. The timeline for implementation would vary greatly depending on the builder, so a solid timeframe on this is impossible to calculate at this time. This idea may also gain the interest of jurisdictions outside of the WORCC. Allowing other groups to get involved would undoubtedly, but only temporarily, complicate the implementation of the program but would ultimately aid in the goal of expedited information exchange in regard to organized retail crime. Such integrations would actually make the organization that much stronger so such opportunities should be explored when at all possible.

The expected barriers come around the software, place holder for the software, and the money necessary to create it. Collectively, the WORCC would need to petition the different government agencies or retailers that would benefit the most from such a system or figure out a private way to accomplish this goal. This could be a potentially huge barrier in regard to funds considering the WORCC runs without profit. Much of the existence of the WORCC is thanks to volunteers and willing participants.

The place holder of the software would also have to be on “neutral ground” in an effort to ensure access in the face of retailer policy changes over time. For instance, if Target was the place holder of the software but then changed their policy to “zero exchange” policy, the access to the database would then be restricted and could result in the ultimate shut down of the WORCC. This is yet another reason why a publicly funded organization should be the place holder for the software and may also be the reason why public funds are ultimately responsible for its creation.

The leadership approach throughout each phase of the implementation would need to be collaborative among the different agencies and the WORCC leadership itself, as each phase would undoubtedly bring about potential and unforeseen barriers not already addressed or recognized.  These considerations could include fields of entry in the program itself, to the distribution of the information, data collection policies, or local/state/federal laws that may force an alteration of the methods being utilized.

Anticipated Results and Measurements for Success

The smallest anticipated result would be in solidification in regard to the continuity of the organization. The minimum success rate should be 2/3rds of the overall goal as these are easily achievable and require no funds or outside help to realize fruition.  The organization should be able to count on a solid date for meetings moving forward and the alteration of leadership for stated reasons.

The greatest anticipated result would be full implementation of the provided plan with local authorities helping (if not entirely paying for) the necessary software and storage space. This phase could take some time but progress could be gauged by tracking the following markers: 1) proposal, 2) acceptance, 3) input and design, 4) rollout and fine-tuning.

Conclusions

If done strategically, this could potentially be a model to follow for other organizations around the country whose goal is to combat organized retail crime. Along similar lines, this could eventually turn into the model that encompasses other organizations as well. At the very least, it could be something that becomes integrated with similar systems long term.

Regardless, with the suggested changes, the WORCC will grow in strength and will have the ability to remain, even when leaders or participants come and go. The tools necessary for the job will increase as well and the ability to act upon information in real-time will increase. The WORCC will be integrated with, rather than working alongside, law enforcement or other agencies which will ultimately increase cooperation and effectiveness in the future. Higher degrees of effectiveness will equate into more emphasis on the group and more funding long term.  

References

Anderson, D. L. (2012). Organization development: The process of leading organizational change. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage Publications.

OpenText. (2014, May 1). Secure Messaging. Information Exchange Suite. Retrieved , from http://www.opentext.com/What-We-Do/Products/Information-Exchange/Secure-Messaging

Roberts, R. (2014, May 1). KASPER – OFFENDER POPULATION SEARCH. Offender Search — Kansas Department of Corrections. Retrieved , from http://www.dc.state.ks.us/kasper

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