“There are very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me.”
– President Barack Obama
How does it make you feel when you hear the President of the United States making these remarks about racial profiling? Is it an accurate statement? Is it a fair statement? Is it a reflection of one man’s opinion, or an indictment of the loss prevention industry as a whole? Regardless of your personal politics, a statement made with such conviction about racial profiling from the leader of our country sends a powerful message—and one that deserves our collective attention.
But when the comments were made by the President and repeated over and over by the press following the Trayvon Martin verdict, the implications were accepted by the general public with little push-back. Why is that? If it’s a valid assessment, why hasn’t it been addressed more aggressively? If it’s not a valid assessment, why haven’t we been more forward or vocal in our objections? More likely, the general response—or lack thereof—is a product of many factors that can complicate the subject of racial profiling and lead us down difficult roads. Have we done enough? Do we need to do more? It is a sensitive topic, but it’s one that’s not going to go away or can be buried in the sand.
The entire subject of racial profiling is extremely volatile and draws passionate reactions. Anger is a common response, which is certainly understandable. It should come as no that an innocent person shopping in a store would be infuriated if they learned that they were being observed, followed, or otherwise scrutinized based solely on their race or the color of their skin. It’s insulting and abusively judgmental. It’s simply wrong. Good people shouldn’t feel the weight of judgment based on ignorant perceptions. But that holds true regardless of the circumstances. It’s just as wrong if someone is discriminated against based on cultural differences, the way we dress, our age, gender, or any other characteristic that makes us unique and special as human beings. This is a perspective commonly shared and universally understood.
By the same respect, it also shows extreme prejudice to pass judgment on an entire industry or profession based on the bad decisions of a few misguided individuals. What makes the subject polarizing is when we’re given the impression that racial profiling is accepted or commonly practiced. It is the insinuation that retail loss prevention personnel are ignorant, uneducated and poorly trained. It’s a disregard for the legitimate surveillance and apprehension process, and the meticulous effort that goes into making the process valid, objective, fair, safe, and accepted. To throw a blanket over an entire industry due to the foolish or misguided actions of a few individuals is unfair in its own right. It’s an unmerited and uninformed indictment of what we do.
So where does all of this leave us? We can agree that racial profiling is unethical and unacceptable. We can say that such discrimination is simply not part of any legitimate loss prevention program. We can rant that it’s insulting and unfair to suggest that racial profiling is common practice. However, if that’s as far as it’s taken, these are just seen as hollow words. All it takes is the foolish actions of a select few to scar an entire industry.
Theft and fraud cost retailers tens of billions of dollars every year. Loss prevention is a legitimate and viable profession that is crucial to the success of the retail industry—an industry that accounts for trillions of dollars in sales, is essential to the nation’s economy, and employs more people than any other privately held group in the world. With that in mind, retailers can’t and won’t tolerate such foolish and irresponsible decisions. Society won’t tolerate these conditions. Customers are guests, and deserve the right to be treated fairly and respectfully when they visit our stores. We must not allow narrow-minded perceptions to taint our company culture or compromise the business in any way. We have to take a stand out of respect for our company, our employees, our customers, and our communities.
A Matter of Policy
Companies use policies to define the rules, principles, and protocols that will guide important actions and decisions. The policy is a statement of intent, that is designed to ensure that a position or approach held by the company is translated into the fabric of the organization and followed by the employee base. However, drafting effective policies requires more than simply putting pen to paper. Appropriate steps must be taken to ensure that the policy is clearly stated, communicated, understood, implemented, enforced, and thereby owned by the entire organization. Most retailers have a firm grasp of this process, investing in the resources and collaboration necessary to construct policies that hold value and meaning to the organization.
There are without question retailers across the country with specific policies that address the issue of discriminatory/ racial profiling. Many others address the subject in other ways, such as through their policies pertaining to observation skills, requirements for surveillance, and even customer service policies. However, it would be equally remiss to suggest there’s not additional progress that can be made to address these and similar concerns. Companies that don’t have specific guidelines should consider drafting and implementing policies that make their position absolutely clear. It’s important to consider that our company policies are intended to be living documents so that they remain relevant and represent the culture, perspective, practices, and position of the organization. Reviewing existing policies and programs should be an ongoing process.
Even when companies have pristine policies and principled intentions, every organization is still made up of individuals, and people make mistakes. People can show poor judgment. By the same respect, there are also those who simply have skewed perceptions and misguided perspectives. Our individual makeup can be shaped by any number of influences that can persuade our thought processes and power our decision making. This is why effective, well-written, and enforceable policies are so important. These are also some of the reasons why strong training and awareness programs so critical.
The Power of Information
Discriminatory/racial profiling is often fueled by ignorance, which is a nemesis faced in many of our personal and professional challenges. However, identifying the problem can also provide us with a clear path to solutions. Ignorance, by common definition, is the state of being uneducated, unaware, or uninformed. By using the power of information, we can overcome many of the hurdles that stand in our way.
Training and awareness programs are key aspects of most loss prevention strategies. We use them to show employees how loss prevention concepts can and should be embedded in their everyday responsibilities. We use them to help keep our customers and employees safe. We engage our employees with strategies that reduce losses and enhance profits. We also build upon fundamental training and awareness strategies to develop our loss prevention teams.
Effective training and awareness initiatives drive our messages and instill a sense of ownership in the core competencies that define our loss prevention programs. This is grounded in many of our fundamental lessons, which infuse key principles and definitive expectations into the core of our training and development. Our commitment to these lessons provides a straightforward path for our teams, and a strong foundation to guide the decisions that follow. These same concepts must reach beyond the LP office and extend into the stores.
Yet while the fundamental concepts of loss prevention may not significantly change, we are an integral cog in an evolving wheel; and therefore must continue to learn and develop in order to meet the mounting needs of the profession. Our training and awareness agenda must consistently reflect the primary messages and competencies that are essential to the industry. This is not an agenda that we can ever outgrow or rise above regardless of our years of experience, level of expertise, or hierarchy within an organization.
This article was excerpted from Racial Profiling: We Can No Longer Just Turn Our Heads.