Wrongfully Accused of Shoplifting
Keep in mind that this article is written for entertainment purposes only. I'm not an attorney and I don't dispense legal advice. If you've been caught shoplifting or have a legal issue with a retail store (or chain) contact an attorney as soon as possible.
What to Do if You're Stopped For Shoplifting,but Didn't Steal Anything
Bad apprehensions (or discontinued detentions . as they're often called) happen to innocent shoppers everyday. You very rarely hear about these incidents because they are bad for business. A store detective stopping someone for shoplifting has several steps to follow before he/she can apprehend. Sometimes, they miss (or skip) a step (or two) That's when the discontinued detention occurs.
The big chains have a couple of procedures in place when someone is stopped and no merchandise is discovered. They vary from company to company, but are essentially the same.
1.) Apologize to the customer for the inconvenience. (NOTE: Some stores will not apologize, as it might be taken as an admission of guilt.)
2.) Provide the customer with your name, the name of your store manager, your LP superiors, etc., along with any phone numbers they request.
3.) Escort the customer (if they wish) back into the store so they may speak with the manager, or return any (purchased or non stolen) merchandise they wish at this point.
4.) Call the police if they wish to document the incident.
5.) Take a look through LPJobs.com because you're going to need a new gig.
If You Are Stopped and No Stolen Merchandise Was Recovered:
Take note of the date, time, store, where you stopped, (inside, outside, in the lobby, etc.) the merchandise you are accused of taking, the store detective's name, superior's name and the name of the store manager. Also request the store number, the store's phone number and any details you might find relevant to your situation. Ask yourself these questions.
-Was I approached inside or outside of the store?
-What was the merchandise I was accused of shoplifting? How much was that merchandise?
-Was I mistreated?
-Was I touched or manhandled in any way?
-Was I discriminated against, called a racial slur or other verbal assault?
-Are there any witnesses to my incident?
-Did the detective identify himself/herself as an agent of the store prior to asking about the merchandise?
If you have returned to the security office with the LP officer, (and no stolen merchandise was recovered), request that the police be called to document the incident. If the store refuses, (or attempts to talk you out of it) call them yourself. Take all your information, obtain a copy of the police report and consult an attorney as soon as possible.
Reasons Loss Prevention Stop Innocent Customers
There are several reasons why store detectives stop customers who have not stolen.
Profiling is rampant in Loss Prevention. No one in the business will ever admit that, but it's the truth. "If you look, or dress like a thief, you will be watched." If you walk into a store looking like something the cat dragged in, prepare to be watched. If you walk in wearing a suit, nice haircut and a Rolex, no one will give you a second glance. It's unfair, but then again, so is real life.
-They see a customer conceal merchandise, but they fail to see the customer dump (or pay for) the merchandise.
Store camera systems have come a long way over the years. They pan, tilt, zoom, and print with extraordinary clarity and color. As high-tech as they are, one thing 99.9% of them don't do, is cover every corner and crevice of the store. Sometimes you can lose a suspect as they walk around a corner, enter the restroom or get lost behind a clothing rack (or display) for a second. Many items are dumped as a customer becomes spooked by another shopper, employee, or has a sudden change of heart. If the shopper discards the merchandise without the store detective seeing it, they may assume the shoplifter still has it. That's why one of the most important rules a store detective must follow is, "Have 100% continuous surveillance of the subject"
-They assume the customer has stolen store merchandise, but they failed to see the customer bring in the merchandise with them.
People bring all sorts of merchandise into the store with them. A broken piece of something they have to replace, an item just purchased elsewhere, an old lipstick (or clothing item) that they want to match exactly, an empty tube of medicine, an auto part, etc. A customer placing their own items in their pockets (even cellphones) have caused liability incidents at stores all over the world.
-They fail to see the customer select the item from the shelf.
How does the store detective know the item came from your store if they don't see selection of the item? They don't.
I worked for a giant supermarket chain once, that insisted this rule be followed with no exceptions. I recall starting my workday one morning and turning on the camera system to see a guy (wearing a winter coat in May) in an empty aisle with a shoppling cart full of meat. He began pulling steaks, roasts, etc., out of the cart and stuffing them down his pants and inside his coat. He was being very careful and it took him awhile to conceal most of the items. I called my boss on the phone while this was happening and told him the situation. The first question the boss asked was, "Do you have selection?" I told him I did not. "Do not apprehend!", he said. If I had apprehended the shoplifter, I would have been out of work. I tried to scare the guy off with a fake security page over the intercom, but he still walked out with several hundred dollars worth of merchandise. The store's take on the matter was, "We'd rather lose a few hundred in merchandise, than several thousand in a lawsuit." Sometimes when you shoplift. the store detective sees everything, but if he/she is missing a step, they can only watch as you walk out the door.
Give an 18 year old kid a plastic badge, a Loss Prevention manual and a certain amount of authority and you've got a bad situation waiting to happen. Most LP programs are garbage. They teach you the rules, what you can and cannot do and then set you off on your own. Working LP is so much more different than what they tell you. There are so many gray and fuzzy areas involved that sometimes you have only moments to decide whether to act on a crime, or to sit tight. It's an incredibly boring job that can get damned exciting (and dangerous) in a heartbeat. It's definitely not for the faint of heart.
-Quotas or Under-performance.
Everyone in Loss Prevention knows the feeling of having a bad month or two when it comes to catching shoplifters. After a couple of weeks of 0 apprehensions, you'll get a call from the boss asking you what the problem is. Maybe it's lack of shoppers, maybe it's that you've had opportunities to apprehend shoplifters, but something at the last minute (like a rule of two) got in the way. Maybe, you're just not seeing it. That happens, too. Whatever the reason you are under-performing, you'll get a subtle warning from your boss. They never come right out and state a shoplifter quota, but in a store where apprehending shoplifters occurs, there is an "unspoken quota" and you'd better produce, or you'll find yourself on the outside looking in. LP's have to justify their paychecks and they must do that with names and addresses. If you've been experiencing a tough few weeks, the added pressure from your boss may cause you to skip a step and make a mistake.
It Even Happened to Me!
Some years ago, I was working as a store detective for the former Ames Department Stores in southern New England. My home store was located in a plaza along with several other small shops.
One day at lunch, I walked next door to CVS to pick up a prescription for my mom from the pharmacy in the rear of the store. On my way down an aisle, I stopped to pick up a couple of items for myself. I checked out my items at the pharmacy, they bagged it and I paid for my purchase with my American Express card. Then I left the store.
As I was walking through the EAS (Electronic Article Surveillance) pedestals at the exit, the bells and whistles went off, along with a loud, cheesy, voice telling me to "STOP!" It said a few other things, but by this time I was on the sidewalk. To set off one of these things is embarrassing enough, but when you're in the Loss Prevention business, it's twice that.
I was just about to turn around and go back into the store (because obviously the pharmacist forgot to deactivate the items I bought) when a guy comes running out of the store and loudly shouted at me to "F***ing hold it right there!" Then he ripped the bag out of my hand. The employee was an assistant manager. He obviously wanted me to know he was an assistant manager, because as he was going through my bag, he told me that CVS took shoplifting seriously. He demanded to see my receipt.
I was pretty upset, but I tried my best to remain calm. I pulled out my wallet, pulled out my receipt (which I didn't have any legal obligation to show him) and my LP ID from Ames and handed it to him. He turned 3 shades of purple as he looked at my credentials.
"Well", he laughed, as he handed me back my bag, receipt and ID, "being in the loss prevention game, I'm sure you understand why I stopped you."
"Being in the loss prevention game", I answered, "I think you should may want to review CVS' policy and then begin looking for a new job. You're going to need one." I may have called him an A-hole. (In fact, I'm sure I did!) Then I went back to work, a little shaken and more than angry.
Was I embarrassed? Of course. A loud alarm, someone ripping a bag out of my hand, swearing at me and demanding a receipt? I think anyone would be. The parking lot was crowded, people were coming and going and walking on the sidewalk. Everyone watching got a pretty good lunchtime show.
Later on that afternoon, I was called to the service desk. Waiting for me, was an envelope with the CVS logo on it and my first name. Inside was a $50 CVS gift card. Anyone else might have been overjoyed to receive a $50 payment as compensation for a couple of minutes of humiliation. I however, was not.
I left the store, gift card in hand and returned to CVS, I didn't see the guy who stopped me, but I did see the store manager. I tossed the card onto the counter and asked her why I had received it. She replied that there had been an obvious misunderstanding and it was CVS' way of making amends. Again, no apology. I told her to keep the card and I left the store. She was a nice lady, but she wasn't stupid, I later found out (through my friends at CVS) that the incident had made it to the corporate office and they were concerned about possible liability. I would be concerned, too. Stopping someone for stealing who does not have merchandise on them is a BIG deal. It can cost your store MAJOR dollars and it will more often than not, eliminate your employment. It also doesn't look good to your customers who witness such events.
I didn't pursue any action against CVS. Ames had a good relationship with the other stores in our plaza and I decided that rocking that boat might just somehow put my job in jeopardy. On my trips back to CVS, (Mom didn't change her pharmacy over the incident), I never did see that assistant manager. Whether he was terminated, quit or ran in the back room every time I walked in, I don't know.I have a feeling he didn't survive the carnage.
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