Retail workers: did you actually prosecute caught shoplifters?

The crazy customers thread made me think of an incident I witnessed a couple of years ago during the height of the holiday shopping season. I was in an interior mall, in the interior common area surrounded by shops. I watched a woman in her twenties who was carrying a medium/large shopping bag and talking on her cellular phone walk out of a clothing store. I think it was Abercrombie & Fitch or GAP or something like that. Two employees came out of the store very soon after her. They stopped her and apparently asked to look in her bag. She was still on her phone, and acted very nonchalant from what I could see. They took various items out of her bag, and went back into the store with the items, and she went on her merry way! Still on her phone! I was amazed.

My friend and I were talking about it while we were in a different store. We were surprised that there was no attempt to call the police or otherwise hold the woman responsible. A salesperson said, “I couldn’t help but overhear you. The thing is, if they detained her and called the police, that would be very time-consuming. Someone would have to stay with her and deal with the police, the report, and that person would not be able to work for likely hours and help make actual sales. So more money would be lost prosecuting her. Especially at this time of year, we just want our merchandise back.” I was sort of stunned - I completely understand what she was saying, but it just seems so…wrong! They just get away with it. Plus, presumably all the thieves know this. So there must be a lot of shoplifters this time of year?

If you worked retail, was this ever your experience/policy?

We’re not allowed to give chase, and if we think someone has been shoplifting we’re supposed to approach them as they leave the store and say “Sir/Madam, I don’t believe we’ve completed our transaction. Would you mind coming back into the store so we can finalize your purchases?” We aren’t allowed to use the words “theft” or “stealing” and we have to maintain a pretense that the goods were accidentally taken and it was all a mistake no matter how blatant the attempted theft. With those conditions in mind, I’ve often wondered how we would prosecute anyone if we followed those rules, but to date it hasn’t come up on my shift.

Experience suggests that it’s likely that policy wouldn’t be followed to the letter in the heat of the moment. I once heard a store manager tell a customer that switching out all the red pencils from the mixed color packs to make up a pack of only red pencils was “like stealing” and “effectively stealing” which I thought was a violation of the policy that said never to accuse someone of stealing, and that was to a guy who was actually trying to pay for his pack of all-red pencils. The manager disagreed with me on the basis that he qualified it with “like” and “effectively” but I suspect head office wouldn’t have approved.

If someone runs from the store, or refuses to come back and “finalize their purchases”, we’re supposed to try to follow them and get details about their vehicle if we can (without chasing them), and we would hand those on to the police. Theoretically they could end up being prosecuted.

I worked in a hardware store about 20 years ago. The short-sighted policy from head office was that unless a manager or assistant manager had verified the theft, regular staff could not declare it. Staff could alert a member of management to suspicious behavior but nothing else.

If a manager had verified a suspected theft, we were meant to phyisically detain the person until the police arrived - supposedly for every incident. I worked there a year and it never happened.

So one day I’m standing at the cash register and some dude walks in, goes to the back of the store, picks up a Black & Decker Workmate, which is a not insubstantial pack - about a 4’ x 3’ box - and starts walking towards the door with it. I rang the bell but the manager was out of the store and the assistant manager was out the back, stuffing her revolting lunch into her disgusting pig face (I didn’t like her much…) and didn’t respond. The guy grinned at me, winked, and walked past the register and out of the store. I told the manager later and he freaked out and started running round the town looking for the guy - think he would probably have attacked the guy and got arrested for assault.

In the dress shop, the owner (who lived in another state) actually did want us to prosecute thieves. The manager, however, hated this policy and would not do anything more than the bare minimum. The manager would get pissed about people who shoplifted, but I suspect that this is because some of the inventory was going out the back door, and the manager would write up tickets in a way that when the staff bought stuff, we’d receive our discounts, but it wouldn’t count as an employee purchase. Employee purchases didn’t count towards the monthy sales goals, and if we didn’t make our goal, she didn’t get her guaranteed minimum.

In the convenience store, we were told not to accuse anyone of stealing, for legal reasons. Also, we weren’t supposed to give chase. Apparently, shoplifters would voluntarily pay up if we fixed them with a steely gaze and told them to pay for ALL of the items they had.

When I worked overnight armed at the restaurant, we had a guy who walked out without paying.

Dumbshit then came back a half hour and tried to rob a guy just outside the front door. As he walked up, the waitress saw him coming and pointed him out to me. As I was walking out the front door 10 feet from him, he threatened an older guy and demanded cash. When he saw me, he ran.

I called the Mall cop next door (a former Special Forces guy I would not want to mess with) and he and another of our guys who was hanging out with him (another former military guy) chased the guy down and caught him in the drug store down the street attempting to shoplift a pair of sunglasses.

Yes, that’s right. This guy was not only stupid enough to stiff a restaurant then come back, but to attempt to rob a guy right outside the doors while an armed security guard was right there, BUT ALSO when chased by two bad assed dudes, decided to stop and do a little shoplifting while on the run.

They detained his ass, returned the sunglasses (the drug store just took the glasses and told him never to come back) and drove him back over to the restaurant. Unfortunately, the guy he had tried to rob had left, so he wasn’t going to be prosecuted for that. Then since it was only $10, the manager of the restaurant didn’t want to waste a day or so in court for it and just demanded he pay up. Silly bastard had more than enough money in his pocket, so the guys who grabbed him took it and paid the bill (while he stood there in handcuffs objecting loudly that he needed the money).

Then he was banned from ever returning to both that restaurant and the surrounding mall. To which his response was to complain bitterly that he lived two blocks away and not allowing him to go to this mall meant he couldn’t buy groceries in the store there. Boo hoo, should have thought of that first. Of course, given what he was pulling, it was obvious that he wasn’t capable of that first thought.

For the record, this was a 20-something white guy who did not look like he was trash. He looked like a college student or something.

But still;

  1. Stiff restaurant (theft)
  2. Attempted robbery
  3. Shoplifting

= No charges.

When I worked at Safeway many years ago we actually had a county police substation in the parking lot. We wouldn’t say a word to the (suspected) shoplifter, we would just call the police and they’d be waiting right outside the door for them in about 30 seconds. Then we would just have one of the bag-boys point him/her out and they’d handle the rest.

Corporate would not hesitate to press all possible charges.

This is the saddest thing I’ve read in a while. What happened with the baseball bat behind the counter and that good 'ol wack to the head

I imagine people who got wacked on the head sued the employers of the wackers, and people who got wacked by the people they were supposed to be wacking sued their employers, and people who tripped over while pursuing or fleeing a wacking sued the employers, and eventually big businesses said “Enough with the wacking. It’s not worth risking a five, six or seven figure lawsuit to stop people stealing two, three or four figure goods from our stores. From now on we’ll only take on shoplifters who’ll stop and agree to pay for things when asked politely to do so.”

Also, I don’t see myself in the role of baseball bat-wielding justice dispenser. Glad that’s not in my job description.

Yeah, it’s been a long time since I’ve had a job where I felt so warmly about my employer that I was willing to take a punch (or a bullet) for them.

When I was with Home Depot the policy was to prosecute any and all incidents of theft. In high theft incident stores and where the law allowed, Home Depot has non-uniformed employees with the authority to apprehend shoplifters by force.

Shortly after I left one of the local stores made national news because they went on to prosecute one of their regular customers for stealing a pencil(he paid for the other 130 bucks of merchandise). After some press they issued an apology but it was a overzealous enough incident they may have changed their policy.

I don’t regularly work for gaming stores but have some experience working for a few of them and frequently hire on for conventions. Being small businesses they have less uniform policies and judgment calls are made. Generally the choice is to prosecute. With juveniles we tend to be more lenient and have a relationship with the police. If they are caught stealing the police are called and the police explain we are not pressing charges but have the right to do so, they are banned from the store if they choose to ignore that ban they are trespassing and the theft charge will also be pursued.

At conventions things are a bit more hectic so you do what time allows, if you have time to press charges you do. If not at a minimum you have the local security take there ‘badge’ away and escort them out of the show so they can’t reenter. Badges tend to be a hundred dollars or more.

A recent case that came to mind for me was at a Star Wars convention we caught a guy stealing some figurines(30dollars retail). Grabbed him flagged security and got up to the police. The officer learned he was here on a Visa. He had over 2000 dollars on him. The officer talked it over we decided not to press charges. The officer told him to pay 60 bucks for the merchandise and ejected him from the show.

Not to mention those people were just shopping in the store, minding their own business and who got mistakenly whacked on the head by those who are supposed to whack shoplifters on the head, but being human, the employees sometimes make mistakes and whack innocent people on the head as well.

One of the Starbucks I worked in a middle- to upper-class neighborhood was frequented by school kids. As I recall, the policy on shoplifting was not to pursue, but report the incident to the police and corporate, nonetheless. One time, though, we had a young, very large (picture high school defensive line) kid working the bar who spotted a young teen boy grabbing little bags of candy and heading for the door. Faster than lightening, our lineman bolts out from behind the bar at the back of the store and makes it out the door just as the kid is about to leave the sidewalk fronting the store and tells the kid in a very serious tone to come back in and sit down. He complied. Leaving the kid sitting at the table nearest the door, he comes to the backroom where I’m working and tells me he collared a shoplifter. “Where is he?” “Out front,” he replies. At this point, I’m thinking the kid probably bolted, but when I come out front, there he is, sitting there and sobbing quietly. Apparently, the size and serious of our barista scared the bejesus out of him, although unbeknownst to him, that guy was a polite, affable, and somewhat quiet kid himself and wasn’t more than five years senior.

The kid hands over the stolen goods (not more than $15 worth of candy) and begs not to be turned in. Sorry, kid. First offense, shouldn’t be too bad. Just don’t ever do it again. We called the police who arrested him and called his parents. My barista and I both filled out statements for the police and for corporate. I can’t remember if my manager ever went to court, but I’m not sure that was required with the statements given. He probably only got a slap on the wrist, which I wouldn’t expect much more than that, but I do hope the kid learned his lesson.

It was a little bit hard to do, but I felt like we all did the right thing. (ETA: Though, I did counsel my barista on the policy regarding pursuit.) The upside is that our shrink shrunk in the following months.

I also worked in a gas station when I was a teenager. The owner said that if anyone came in and started an armed robbery, I was to tell them I had to get the keys to the safe. I would then pick up the phone and call him in the house next door and ask “can I have the keys to the safe”. This was code for “come into the gas station with a shotgun and shoot the perpetrator”.

Er… no. I wasn’t going to get caught in crossfire for a guy (incidentally a racist antsemitic bigot) who paid me £1.40 an hour. As far as I was concerned, they could help themselves to whatever they wanted.

Second-hand story:

A couple of weeks ago I was walking into a CVS drug store and saw a couple college girls sashaying out (really, they were totally sashaying). A frumpy old lady in a CVS uniform came out and yelled at them, and they stopped, and one of them put something in the trash can. They went back to the old lady, but she marched past them to the trash can and pulled what turned out to be a purse out of the trash can. By now, two other employees came out and corralled the two girls; by the time I got to the front, the girl with the purse was cornered in the shopping cart area and was quietly weeping and pleading with the store employees. Don’t know how it ended, but those girls got caught dead to rights, and the CVS employees were putting the fear of God into them.

In the other thread I mentioned my crappy but brief retail job. Shortly before I worked there a shoplifter ran away and an employee gave chase through the mall. He intended to stop if the thief made it outside. So our employee chased him out the doors onto the sidewalk and then stopped, but a man in a car witnessed the chase, pulled over and tackled the guy. Police arrived, the thief was handcuffed and put in the back of the squad car where he started bashing his own face against the window and anything else nearby. He then tried to claim that my co-worker beat him up.

There was a very short “investigation” which consisted of a police officer checking the back of my co-worker’s hands, but given witness reports, they weren’t taking the allegations seriously. Between mall security footage and the two officers who watched him slamming his own face around their car, his false claims went nowhere. However, it became official store policy not to chase anyone because they didn’t want to risk any lawsuits based on “assault.”

Anyone who was caught shoplifting was told to have a seat and wait for mall security and the police to arrive. Surprisingly, few tried to run away. They were usually teenaged girls though. The store did prosecute.

Stores sometimes will catch shoplifters, but rather than call police, just assess civil penalties. Most of the smaller stores at my local shopping mall do this, though the large department stores do call the police (and also assess the civil fine). See this article in the Wall St. Journal about how it’s done. In my state, the stores can assess a fine up to $650 over the cost of the stolen merchandise, whether or not the merchandise was recovered, whether or not charges are brought. Some states allow a much larger penalty.

Interesting responses! I’m glad that not all stores just let people get away with it…it’s just sort of annoying that people steal when the rest of us pay. (Not counting food when you’re starving…I saw guy stealing a box of cereal in a store one time - just put it in his courier-type bag. He saw that I saw.) He looked a little down on his luck and I made an executive decision to say nothing about it…

My brother worked retail for awhile, I should ask him. I remember him telling me about sophisticated thieves with bags that are lined with something that defeats the security tags. His store was occasionally (well once that I know of) victim to a “table swipe” where one person stands guard and when it’s clear, one or two more walk up quickly to one of the tables that is very near to the entrance, and in one motion swipe all the clothes off the table into big bag and then they all run. In some stores they can get away with a good amount of merchandise that way.

I have been in court on many occasions when people are being arraigned for shoplifting. Places like Target, Penney’s, etc are intent on seeing prosecution. I’ve seen someone arrested in an Andronico’s grocery store (high end East SF Bay Area) and the accused threatened repeatedly to kill the man arresting her.

Years ago, I remember reading in a Criminology textbook that thieves who were caught with special devices to help them steal (bags sewn into the lining of their clothing, pliers to snip off security tags, etc.) when caught were dealt with MUCH more harshly by both the stores and then the courts, as they have shown premeditation in their shoplifting ways, as opposed to the teenager who slips something in a coat pocket on a spur-of-the-moment impulse…

Makes sense, and I for one think that some veteran shoplifters might think twice if they were subjected to a bit of olde-fashoned “shame” based punishment, like standing outside of the store that they tried to rip-off, holding a sign telling all passersby what they were caught trying to do.

Not a popular opinion perhaps, but it might be more effective than having the offenders pretend to pick up trash along the highway on the weekends while the off-duty cop/work crew guard looks at porn on his cell-phone.

I work in the Security department at one of the larger resorts on the Las Vegas strip. We almost always detain and prosecute shoplifters, except in cases when the shoplifter is a minor with their parents.