I usually hit the local Rite Aid in my neighborhood at least once a day. During my visit one of the clerks there fills me in on the latest shoplifting incident. A few weeks ago, for instance, she told me about a man who brought a box of pampers up to the counter but then bolted—unpaid Pampers in hand-- out the front door. The clerk said that this sort of thing happens all the time. Customers will bring merchandise to the counter and act as if they are going to pay for it but then at the last minute they cut and run with the goods. The episodes happen in a matter of seconds, and often the thief is never caught.
To combat this form of shoplifting, Rite Aid has employed additional security near the front door. Pamper and paper towel thieves still find a way to beat the system, however, since security cannot be everywhere. Still, the situation is much better than it was some months ago when the only security in Rite Aid seemed to be the store manager himself, a hard working individual who I’d often see chasing shoplifters through the parking lot several times a month.
Incidences of local shoplifting seem to be increasing. This is due, I think, to the still ailing economy. It is with alarming regularity that I see someone—usually an unkempt looking male—being escorted out of Thriftway for some shoplifting infraction.
In 2009, The New York Times reported that “As Economy Dips, Arrests for Shoplifting Soar.” The Times also reported that police departments around the country are reporting ten to twenty percent higher incidents of shoplifting in 2010. This means that what is happening in the neighborhood is happening all around the country.
The unpleasant side to the increase in shoplifting is the beefed-up security now in place in stores of every stripe, even those “lowly” but oh-so-necessary dollar discount houses where you wouldn’t think they’d be much to guard. In this new age of “everyone is assumed guilty until proven innocent” even nuns in full religious habits can be made to feel like potential thieves as they wander through retail aisles and shop.
Shopping under a watchful eye (Big Brother) is not the best way to shop, especially when a security person eyes you for no apparent reason and begins the process of indiscreet tracking, meaning that he or she has chosen you for monitoring during your time in the store. Monitoring in this case can mean following you up and down the aisles in a manner that can be quite blatant. When this happens, it’s not easy to remember that security is just doing its job, that it’s not how we look or what we’re wearing at the moment—sunglasses, baggy pockets, etc.,—that’s causing this, it’s the age we live in.
Sadly, the retail world is fast becoming like the world of airport security where everybody’s a suspect until proven innocent.
Recently I had to pick up some items in one of those “oh so valuable” dollar stores in Port Richmond Village. The second I entered the store I encountered two agile looking (read: strong) non-uniformed security guards standing on both sides of the aisle like Feng Shui sculptures. “Wow, I thought, “they’ll be no Pamper escapes here, but this kind of security must cost a fortune!”
Come to think of it, a lot of stores in the area these days seem to have more security than cashiers.
In Pennsylvania a first offense for shoplifting (for goods under $150.00) can net a summary offense with the possibility of 90 days in jail. Many store managers, however, will give warnings to first time offenders, especially if the items are small. A hungry person who steals a peppered turkey and cheese wrap from WAWA, for instance, won’t be treated the same way that a retail cell phone thief will be treated.
The Chinese have an unusual way of dealing with shoplifters. If you’re caught shoplifting items from a Chinese grocery store, the owner will take you to a back room and request payment for the items. If you refuse, the owners photograph you holding the stolen item in question and then post the picture in the market. Then they inform the police.
If, on the other hand, you oblige the owner and pay up, you’re still not home free because you’re subject to a fine. “Steal one, fine 10,” the Chinese say.
This begs the question: How do you collect fines in an ailing economy?
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