One of the most heart wrenching things a security guard can hear from a store employee is, stop that man, he is stealing from the store. Why? When there is only one security guard, which is often the norm, they must follow wisdom and not an immediate sense of justice. From all appearances it sounds reasonable, after all that is what security guards are there to do, protect store property from being removed from a store without payment first. But this is the commonly accepted appearance of a security guard and not the reality of the circumstances.
The circumstances that surround shoplifting today is very different from the 1950’s, when shoplifting was done by bored kids looking for something to do or by a very poor mother looking to give her hungry child an apple. The shoplifter of today is more likely to have a chemical addiction, associated with organized street gangs, or their mental health may be compromised by a psychological condition, all of which are potentially very dangerous. While a commissioned police officer has the training and immediate resources to confront individuals with a chemical dependency issues or those involved with street gangs, the typical security guard does not.
Again, in appearances the shoplifter may look like the average person, but when confronted by an authority figure like a uniformed security guard, a person with a chemical addiction or a mental health condition can become defensive and combative, because the uniformed individual is perceived as someone who will prevent them from supporting their habit or take away something they currently cherish. Their altered minds to not allow them to follow reason and common sense, and when you find yourself in a potentially physical confrontation with them it is very dangerous on so many different levels.
Every security guard has been trained on the realities of one-on-one confrontation with the shoplifter of today and what can happen if they attempt a citizen’s arrest under a Merchant Statute. They know if they are alone this can be a dangerous and life nt. Therefore, when you see a security guard is not pursuing a shoplifter, it is not because they do not what to make an arrest, it is because they have chosen wisdom rather than an immediate sense of justice. The security guard would rather have the store security cameras and their written report be another chapter in that criminal’s history, then face a lengthy stay in a hospital or worse. In the security guard community this is called, being a good witness.
There is another reason why security guards do not pursue shoplifting suspects and this one is not always noticeable. Some corporations operate with two different security companies. One company provides uniformed security guards and the other provides loss prevention officers. When a store has separated uniformed security guards and loss prevention officers there is often clear boundaries. Many loss prevention security companies do not want the uniformed security guards to apprehend shoplifting suspects. This policy often leads to some very frustrated local store managers, because when they see a shoplifter moving towards the door they want immediate action. They want the uniformed guard to confront the individual and retrieve the items. This leaves a uniformed guard in a very awkward position. On the one hand they want to make the store manager happy and on the other hand they have to comply to the directives given by their company. So the next time you see a uniformed guard allowing a shoplifter to run out the door it does not mean that the suspect is going unnoticed, the company that is providing loss prevention services most likely has recorded the suspect on video.
Written by Dave Pflueger in May 2016 (c) copyrighted by Pflueger. Dave is a former Correctional Chaplain of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department and certified for mental health peer counseling.