BILLINGS — One Billings business is building a shoplifting wall of shame. It’s designed to teach everyone to shop local, but not steal local.
It’s back to the basics at Liberty and Vine Country Store in downtown Billings as staff members build a bulletin board of public shame, complete with names and photos, reminding everyone to stop by the cash register before they walk out the door with merchandise.
“Some of these are also known around town to do this,” says Liberty and Vine Country Store Sales Clerk Krista Regan as she points to the wall of shame. “This one in particular, she did some price tag switches so she wanted to buy it for a cheaper price and took the tags off.”
But many who try to swipe goods from this store end up returning the items in a very timely manner.
“We had a lady who had stolen several items. She had a lot on, she was putting them on and I was cleaning the restrooms and I found several price tags that she attempted to flush down the toilet,” says Regan.
That's when owner Amy Pawlowski took matters into her own hands as she often does.
“Either my husband or myself will approach them and we will get the items back, and we will tell them they are not welcome in our store,” Pawlowski said.
In this case, Pawlowski threatened to blast the alleged shoplifter’s face all over social media. The goods were returned the next morning with a promise from Pawlowski to not press charges against a person with a criminal history.
“We told the person that they were not allowed at our store or any other downtown local stores from that point on,” says Pawlowski. “We also told them their information would also be shared with all the other local downtown businesses in order to protect those businesses.”
In her 20 years in business, Pawlowski says she has never filed a shoplifting police report.
“The jail is full, so when somebody does shoplift they don’t go to jail now. They get a notice to appear. I think a lot of businesses now try to handle the problem on their own, which means when somebody does shoplift we just try to get our stuff back,” says Pawlowski.
While she may have success, it’s not something the Billings Police Department recommends.
“You really don’t know anything about the person that’s stealing from you,” says Billings police Lt. Matt Lennick. “If you’re chasing them down the street and you’re trying to detain them or hold them to get your stuff back, that’s probably not advised.”
Lennick admits it's a drain on city resources, though, as two sworn officers out of nine at any given time on the streets need to respond to a call in progress. With police investigating 691 thefts so far in 2023, it is certainly keeping officers busy.
Of those nearly 700 theft investigations in Billings, 299 adults have been arrested and 59 juveniles have been arrested.
“Stop. Don’t do it. Please don’t do it,” Lennick said.
“Don’t do it. It's stupid,” says Regan.
If you do, Pawlowski and the team say they’ve got plenty of room for you on their wall of shame.