Seeing a shoplifter wrestled to the ground in our local supermarket today reminded me of an incident when I was Duty Manager in a major store years ago.
It was a warm summer evening and the store was busy. I was walking down the entertainment aisle when I heard the familiar thump of something being dropped into a bag. Looking around I noticed a young man wearing a long coat studying the DVDs. There was a battered old shopping bag by his feet.
I positioned myself among the customers so I could watch him discreetly. And I could clearly see how he operated. He picked up two DVDs and pretended to read them. Then he bent down as if he was putting them back on the lower shelf, and he let one slip into the bag. He did this five times, then picked up the bag and casually headed for the door.
Just then there was an urgent call for a First Aider to go to the warehouse. I had no choice. The accident took priority, and by the time I phoned security the lad was gone.
Some weeks later I noticed him again. This time he was walking out the front door with the same old shopping bag. He went to the cash point where he put the bag on the ground while he used the machine. I passed close by him and I could clearly see a pile of DVDs in the bag. Of course I couldn’t do anything about it as I couldn’t prove he stole them, so I had to leave it and go back to work.
It was weeks before I saw him again and this time he clocked me clocking him. He gave a big grin and took his time wandering around the store, feral eyes everywhere as he picked things up and put them down again. Security tracked him the whole time, but he didn’t step out of line. He was obviously enjoying himself winding us up, and eventually he picked up a newspaper and a bag of crisps and headed for the self-service tills.
It had been a long hard week and I was feeling totally stressed out. A head office visit had gone badly and the losses were dreadful. We were on notice to sort out the issues of the disappearing stock. And now I was totally frustrated at being mocked by one of the regular thieving toe-rags.
So I picked up a couple of DVDs and got a security tag from behind the Customer Service desk. Then as I squeezed through the mass of customers at the self-service tills I casually slid them into the lad’s bag.
Security got a call to stand by the front doors, and sure enough when the alarm went off the lad smirked and swaggered away. When he was stopped and asked to show what was in the bag he got stroppy and gobbed off about his rights. But when the security guys took out the DVDs and asked him to show the receipt for them he really kicked off. It took three guards to restrain him until the police came.
I did feel guilty for a short time – until the police found three ladies purses and about thirteen stolen credit cards on his person.
Was it justified? How would you define justice?