Shoplifting and related retail crimes are often perceived by the general public as a minor nuisance rather than a multi-billion dollar problem. But as those in the loss prevention industry are acutely aware, these crimes can also lead to more serious issues with profound and lasting consequences. Unfortunately, the outcomes of simple incidents of shoplifting are often unexpected. In one instance, an act of shoplifting ultimately impacted the entire nation.
The events that took place in Ferguson, Missouri resulted in debates all over the world and sparked many demonstrations and subsequent protests against racial injustice. To briefly summarize , a police officer attempted to stop two young men suspected of being involved in a shoplifting incident that escalated into strong-arm robbery at a local store. The situation quickly intensified, resulting in a confrontation between the officer and one of the suspects, and a young man was killed. The young man was African-American and unarmed. The veteran police officer was Caucasian.
In the months following the incident, we heard conflicting accounts of what happened, how it happened, and why it happened. There were heated discussions regarding the motives of the parties involved, the actions and intentions of the young men who were stopped, and the reactions of the police officer who responded to the scene.
In November 2014 a grand jury failed to indict the involved officer as a result of the incident, leading to additional tensions and response. While some chose to protest peacefully, others chose a different course. Retail malls were the target of many protests. Retail shopping was disrupted on Black Friday. Unfortunately, discord spilled into the streets of Ferguson, escalating to incidents of violence, destruction of property, looting, and other acts of impropriety. In New York, a gunman ambushed and murdered two police officers, allegedly a revenge killing as a result of the incident in Ferguson and another incident in New York.
What led to the incidents that took place? Was it racism? Was it a lack of respect for the legal authority and a failure to appropriately respond to an officer simply trying to do his job? Was it an overzealous response by the officer or the overly aggressive behavior of the young man? Was the officer trying to protect himself? Was the young man trying to surrender? Was it anger or panic? If so, who was angry and who panicked? Regardless of personal beliefs and public opinions, there are some definitive facts—everyone involved made some extremely poor decisions, and a young man was tragically killed as a result.
For those who believe that the response of the officer wasn’t justified in this and other events, is it right to hold the entire law enforcement community responsible for the poor decisions of a few misguided individuals? For those condemning the actions of a few thugs that use these tragic incidents as an excuse to pillage, steal, and abuse their communities, is it right to hold those that are simply mounting peaceful demonstrations seeking awareness and change in the same light? Aren’t the answers to those questions similar to the ones that brought us here in the first place?
Taking It Full Circle
On Saturday, August 9, 2014, two young men were allegedly involved in a shoplifting incident for the theft of cigarillos from a Ferguson, Missouri, convenience store. The incident quickly escalated to a strong-arm robbery when the men were confronted by a store manager, and the manager was assaulted as they left the store with the stolen items. This simple, foolish act of shoplifting is what set the events in motion. Fifteen minutes later, a young man is dead, a family shattered, a community in turmoil, and a nation to this day still looking for answers.
It seems like insanity to imagine that shoplifting a couple of dollars’ worth of tobacco products could be at the heart of such a tragic series of events; yet here we are. What does it mean? Who knows? But it does serve as a stern reminder that every incident that occurs in our stores can lead to unpredictable results. Shoplifting can be dangerous and unpredictable. There is no such thing as a “routine” encounter with a shoplifter, and there are no limits to how quickly things can get out of hand.
Clearly, many of the issues are much more deeply rooted, and there are no easy answers or quick fixes to the problems that face our society as a whole. The best that we can hope for is to make smart decisions and stand by our own principles.
But when it comes to managing incidents in our stores, there are reasons why we have policies and practices regarding how to handle these situations. There are reasons why we don’t want our employees confronting shoplifters. There are reasons why we tell our employees that there is nothing in the store worth someone getting hurt. Is that a stretch? Ask Officer Darren Wilson or the family of Michael Brown.
To learn more, read the original 2015 LP Magazine article “A Look Back, a Glimpse Forward.”