Make it a Local Concern for a Local Problem

David Lake
28-year Law Enforcement Veteran and President and CEO, International Institute for Shadow Economics Research

It is frustrating for all of us.  Even those who have the best support from their companies will end up frustrated with it. Thousands of hours have been spent trying to change it.  Many companies have hired “recycled brass,” former police leaders and former federal agents in hopes that they could “pull some strings” and still, minimal change. Yes, getting local agencies to engage in Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) cases is very challenging. Your bosses know it, but you were hired to get results. 

It is a difficult truth that IPR is not a major priority for the criminal justice system. This is true for all property crimes. Violent crime will always have priority on resources within policing, followed by community relations and then property crimes. As we become desensitized to violent crime we are also becoming desensitized to crime in general. Now, realize how unsympathetic the entire system, from the media to the jury, is to corporate victims.  (See Moving IP Crime Out of the Shadows in the BPP 3rd Edition)  Entering into that environment with a complaint about a local vendor selling counterfeit goods is like going on a date with a jaguar. You quickly learn that you are not speaking the same language and end up bloody and battered from the experience. So what can you do?

I have two areas of competency to offer the brand protection community. One is “Shadow Economics,” which is the world of illegal commerce. The other is what I call “Insurgent Change” which is the concept of deciding what changes I need, finding out what moves the people I need moved, and then moving them without them knowing that I moved them. I really prefer the direct approach but, having “dated a million jaguars” in my law enforcement career, I have grown to appreciate the indirect method. A man once told me age equals wisdom. He was wrong. Scars do. 

So here is the concept that I have used successfully and that I recently shared with a group of brand owners at a crime conference. In order to be effective, you must realize that your influence locally is like having your hand in a bucket of water. As soon as you pull out of an area, the hole you left in the water is how much influence you have. No matter who you are, in absence, all influence fades over time. 

So your first goal is to find a local influence that will stay after you have gone. Many brand owners use private investigators locally, who are effective if they have enough influence to get the local agencies to engage. If not, then follow this plan.

First, engage your local retailers.  I have found that it’s best to find three retailers. These local businesses are the lifeblood of the city. When they are seen as suffering, it sells better in the media. Involvement of local retailers neutralizes a major concern, no “big greedy corporation” here. You may need to educate your retailers, if you haven’t already, on how much money they are losing in sales (creates emotion) and how much they matter (or should matter) to the city leadership. 

Second, give them an assignment. One business owner can call the media to complain about the unfair impact vendor X is having on his business due to the selling of counterfeit goods. The second business owner can do the same but also call the Mayor and City Council Members. The third can call the City Council only. Why? Multiple fronts will create greater leverage. If the City Council hears from a few but there are still others in the news, council members will ask themselves, “how many more upset business owners are there?!?” Proper media mobilization should get the reporters to talk to the brand owner, the politicians, and the Police Chief to find out why this crime is allowed to occur. That is a successful “squeaky wheel” campaign. 

To support the operation, have ready articles and information on counterfeiting, including its magnitude and economic effects, that you can provide to your retailers for their education and use. This will help them when they are arguing their position on losing money. Encourage them to give this information to reporters to support their claim. Seeding the environment before an operation is very important to educating the public and creating momentum. 

OK, we have their attention. You have created a crisis for which local law enforcement must respond.  Now be the solution. Behind the scenes, the Police Chief has received a call or many, asking what he or she will do about the problem. Engage. Call the local Police Chief or, if it’s a big agency, the Property Crimes Commander. Tell them that as the brand owner you were made aware of the issue and that you have the resources to help support the investigation. Make sure you actually support the investigation!  If you back out now, you lose them forever.

After the investigation is done and arrests are made, you must follow up and follow through. 

Follow up means to re-engage the police leadership and find out what struggles they may have endured during their investigation that you can help reduce or eliminate in the future. This will remove future obstacles.  Follow through means recognition. Give out awards with your company logo to the police officers and the local business owners in a ceremony with the Mayor and Police Chief. 

Sorry, you’re not done. The business owners need to engage the elected official in the prosecutor’s office to ensure the case does not die there. They should even ask to meet with the prosecutor’s office and encourage the assignment of a few expert prosecutors who understand IPR cases to handle these cases. Make sure they know that you can provide some localized training through one of the industry groups.

Now you have achieved your real goal, which is to develop the capacity for effective prosecution in a specific market. Get good at it and you can do it anywhere. You can get even better by creating a coalition of other affected brands sold in local stores that are also being sold by the counterfeiter and support anti-counterfeiting efforts as a group.  There is force in numbers.

See Are you Getting Your Money’s Worth? Interactions with Federal Law Enforcement in the 3rd Edition of the BPP for a Federal angle on this subject.