Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Shoplifting: Case #10 - The Brawl‏

   The front alarms fired off. John had already stepped from behind the counter and was questioning the suspect.
   Male, about sixteen. Short sleeved, button shirt, untucked and unbuttoned. Blue jeans. By the time I walked up there, the guy had his arms outstretched, shirt wide open.
   "I don't know what it is. These burglar alarms always go off on me."
   "Maybe something accidentally fell into your pants?" I asked, while I accidentally swatted his sides with my clipboard.
   "Could be you stepped on a tag," John suggested.
   A common explanation. Rarely happened, though. I'd worked there a decade. In all that time, I'd stepped on one tag that triggered security.
   John was relatively new. Word was, he was either related to The Boss or related to a bygone colleague of The Boss. He wasn't what I would call a music buff, in that he admitted he had never purchased an album or CD in his life. All his tunes, he downloaded. File sharing sites were killing us.
   The alarm kept going off. The guy's shirt flapped open. Nothing. With permission, we felt his jeans. Nothing.
   "It's me, man! I got this strange magnetic field that shorts out frequencies, stuff like that."
   What a crock.
   Yet I could not find any product or tag. I didn't buy the alibi, but I had no evidence.
   Stacey moved in.
   "Alright, hand it over."
   "Like I told these guys, every time I walk -- "
   "Don't bullshit me. Hand it over."
   "I don't -- "
   "Now!"

   He stuck his hand down his crotch and withdrew two discs. Admittedly, John and I hadn't probed that personally.
   "Now, get the fuck out before I phone the cops. And don't you ever come in here again, Jerkoff."
   Dilemma: Should we restock those CDs "as is"? Disinfect them first? Or burn them?
   How long did crotch sweat residue linger?
   Stacey turned to John and me. "Nothing to it, guys." Then headed toward the rear of the store.
   "Emulate Stacey, Grasshopper," I addressed John. "She should be your enforcement role model. Not me."
   That was sound advice.
   Stacey caught more thieves than the rest of the store combined. Part instinct, part personality. She thrived on confrontation, aggression, conflict.
   Yet she didn't win them all.
   When thieves recoiled, the results were often painful. Stacey was, after all, a short, small built female.

   It was late evening.
   Stacey hounded two females through the store. Both were blatantly stealing. Then angrily replacing items from their purses back on the nearest shelf every time they noticed her. With every moment they got more frustrated and more mad.
   "You can't treat me like some animal," one snapped. "I'm a customer, and I have rights!"
   "Yeah. You have the right to check out whenever you're ready,"
Stacey replied innocently.
   "Don't you give me no smart ass mouth."
   "Sorry. I didn't know you could understand smart."
   "I don't shop here for some punk bitch to diss me like street trash."
   "I didn't say nothing about your JC Penney's wardrobe,"
Stacey mocked.
   "Fuck you, bitch!"
   "What'd you spend? About eight bucks for that ensemble? Eight bucks more than you intended to spend here?"

   Joe and JD stood at opposite corners of the aisle, doing their best not to burst out laughing.
   "Fuck this," the other woman threw up her hands. "Let's just leave."
   On their way past Stacey, the more belligerent of the pair deliberately bumped into her.
   Stacey pushed back.
   Events quickly escalated. A third woman hurried up, and the three suggested they settle their problems outside.
   Stacey hit the doors and waited.
   Within a minute, there was an ugly fistfight out on the parking lot.
   The three shoplifters were stocky and built like football linebackers. They were grossly fat, furious, kicking and throwing punches. There were three of them.
   Stacey was outnumbered and getting the shit beat out of her.
   Meanwhile, where were the guys? Joe and JD? Stacey's backup.
   Both coworkers were out there. They weren't fighting, they kept trying to break up the brawl. Smacking a female in Texas meant criminal record. And grabbing one was equally dangerous.
   No sooner would JD reach around one of the girls, then she'd squirm out of his grip and rumble back into the fray.
   Later, J described it. "I was grabbing one, pulling them by their waist, you know? Except they bucked around, next thing I'm holding tits 'n asses. So I had to let go. Damn, man."
   Joe voiced the same concerns. "Cops roll up, man, they won't see catfight. They'll see two males groping and fondling."
   "Yeah, sexual harassment shit. Damn."

   The brawl finished more from exhaustion. Stacey had been pounded, and had to be treated at the clinic.
   Next day, she gave notice and quit. Became a security guard, spent a month mindlessly watching a bank of surveillance monitors. Finally, couldn't stand it, and came back to Camp Bowie.
   Was her behavior towards shoplifters affected?
   Subdued?
   Hell, no.

   Front counter spotted Len as soon as he entered.
   "Gym bag!"
   Usually we'd yell, "Backpack" or "Matrix," depending on the accessory or trench coat. Amateur thieves were predictable.
   Len marched in carrying a gym bag. Yellow t-shirt, brown shorts.
   Len was a sophomore at the local university. Majored in computer science. Had been accepted into one of the fraternities off Seminary Street. Worked part time at the McDonald's on Camp Bowie and Montgomery. He was trying to break up with either a girlfriend or guy. Liked Skittles candy. If he wasn't running for the track squad, he should have. Len could have been scholarship material.
   Yeah, you must think we were psychic.
   Of course he set off the alarms. Naturally, Joe was positioned beside the file server and JD next to the Ticket Master computer.
   Len bolted down the sidewalk, heading west. He was fast, but JD was amazing. Oh ... I forgot to mention ... Len was running in rubber flip flops.
   Next thing, he dumped the gym bag, grabbed the flip flops, and ran barefoot.
   Len out ran his pursuers.
   Very embarrassing to JD and Joe that they lost that barefoot, short short wearing fratboy in the residential neighborhood.
   Because he dropped the gym bag, Len didn't successfully steal six DVDs. That's what we counted when person unnamed retrieved the bag.
   We never contacted the police.
   The approved course of action would have been to restock our merchandise, and ... maybe ... try to return Len's belongings to him.
   Like that cellphone. Box of Skittles. His revealing journal. Computer science books. Lab homework. Plus, that breakup note, written and rewritten several times.
   Someone could have phoned and left a voice mail. Courtesy, because we care.
   The wrong course of action would have been to phone his employer, McDonald's, and describe the attempted theft and subsequent chase. Or to phone the fraternity and relate the incident. Or to leave messages to every number on his cellphone contact list.
   That would be insensitive. Feelings might get hurt.
   I would never do those dreadful things.
   This story wasn't about me, though.
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