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Cutting back on crime scenery

Lexington police have responded to more than 700 calls of shoplifting, commercial burglary and fraud in 2010, but officers hope an upcoming daylong conference to educate businesses on proven deterrents will stop that growing tally.

An April 27 event at Consolidated Baptist Church aimed at business owners and their employees will include discussions, among other things, of a movement called Crime Prevention Through Economic Design, which helps improve the solvability of crimes by changing store layouts and architectural designs.

"It's placement of shrubbery, it's motion lights," said Sgt. Chris Townsend of Lexington's commercial burglary unit. "It's placing sales fliers over the windows where visually outside you can't be seen. That potentially increases your likelihood of becoming a victim of a robbery."

Derek Paulsen, associate professor of criminal justice at Eastern Kentucky University, said some aspects of CPTED are common sense changes, but others, such as placement of goods and width of aisles, have "real science" behind them.

"You want to make sure that those things that are high-value items are displayed where other people are around," Paulsen said. "There are some well-paid consultants ... that put a lot of effort into that loss-prevention aspect."

Paulsen has studied CPTED as it relates to Secure by Design, an international movement to reduce neighborhood crime by community planning. He said communities that have implemented Secure by Design standards have seen crime reduced by up to 65 percent.

"From a police perspective, prevention is great because you're not sending out police resources," he said. "A good crime prevention technique is like adding 'x' number of officers."

Though the class aims to increase prevention, it will focus heavily on "increasing solvability factors" in business crimes that do occur, Townsend said, making it more likely that a suspect will be arrested and a business owner can recoup losses.

Improving the chances for the case to be solved can often be overlooked. Only 196 arrests have been made in the 731 reports of shoplifting, commercial burglary and fraud reported through March 22. Citations were issued for 56 others.

Even business owners who don't consider their operations a likely target, such as non-profit organizations and churches, are encouraged to attend. For example, police have taken several calls this year from churches reporting cases of metal theft where copper wiring was stolen from air conditioning units.

The thieves "may only get 40 to 50 dollars at a salvage yard, but they may cause hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of damage" to HVAC systems, Townsend said.

Townsend called employee theft "non-discriminatory" with the types of businesses it affects.

Last year, a former office manager was accused of embezzling more than $435,000 from Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bluegrass, a non-profit youth mentoring group. The case came on the heels of accusations of overspending on credit cards at Blue Grass Airport and quasi-government organizations like the Kentucky League of Cities.

"There's a lot of temptation out there — large amounts of cash with no oversight," he said.