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Georgetown retailers accused of using messaging app for profiling | News

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Georgetown retailers accused of using messaging app for profiling

GEORGETOWN, DC (WUSA9) -- Many Georgetown retailers are using a messaging app to combat shoplifting, but some critics say the messages are another form of racial profiling.

The app the shopkeepers use is called "GroupMe", a real-time group messaging application that people all over the country use to communicate. The retailers are using it to let other retailers know about suspicious activity or shoplifting. 

But many posts are about African American people, commonly abbreviated as "AA" whom retailers allege shoplifting or suspicious activity.

Keisha Greene manages Sports Zone, and yesterday they put a lookout on an African American man. He didn't steal anything.

"He's one of the guys who look suspicious and checking out what we have," Greene said. "They'll probably come in the next time and steal it."

According to messages obtained by our editorial partners at The Washington Post, a retailer posted a picture of an African American girl who stole a polo from the Lacoste store this week. On Wednesday morning, Abercrombie and Fitch put out a lookout on an African American woman who, employees say, "stuffed a sparkly blazer in her purse."

The employee asked on the app if she should call 911. She later said the woman ended up putting back the item because an officer showed up.

But some shoppers think the messages are a form of racial profiling. 

"I think if they look at all shoppers and not just particular race it would beneficial," Nicola Kennedy, a shopper said. 

"I feel like there's always some element of racial profiling. I think age could be a profile, what anyone is wearing could be a profile that all plays into it to me," Dave Shove-Brown, a shopper said. 

"Society has shown we're always looking at African Americans who are shoplifting always following.  I've been in stores and people are following me, but I'm coming in to shop," Nicola Kennedy, a shopper said. 

The merchants have partnered with police and the Georgetown Business Improvement District. Georgetown BID CEO Joe Sternlieb says the group is heavily monitored and retailers are trained on posting suspicious or criminal activity.

Sternlieb says a very small percentage (about five percent) of the posts are inappropriate. When that happens the BID visits the store and retrains the staff. If it happens again they are removed from the group.

Georgetown BID has received zero complaints about the program 

There are 420 storefronts in Georgetown and roughly 380 stores are members of the GroupMe group. 

"Merchants wanted to know if stores are being robbed. The store across the street wants to know that. You are less likely to be racially profiled in Georgetown because we train against it," Sternlieb said. 

"I'm the manager, I protect my store. I have to look out or else I'm losing my inventory," Greene said.  

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