I went to my local Barnes and Noble tonight to buy some books and magazines. The store has its own Starbucks, so I decided to pick up some coffee for me and my wife.
As I entered the Starbucks, I saw a tall, white male with blonde hair and a faded Raiders jacket. He was approximately six feet tall and two-hundred plus pounds.
If there is one thing I picked up in the military, it is a sort of sixth sense about when people are about to do something dangerous or stupid. The man hadn’t done anything wrong, yet I felt strangely uncomfortable around him. It didn’t help me feel any better when I ordered my wife an effeminate drink — a skinny vanilla latte — which would almost certainly mark me as a potential victim.
He ordered his coffee just before I’d ordered mine, yet he lingered. After he received his drink, he asked the cashier for a bag. He then left the Starbucks and entered the main Barnes and Noble store. There, he stopped at the front of the store near the exit doors.
On my way out, I noticed him standing there and was prepared for him to attempt a mugging. As I turned and exited through the doors, the store’s alarm system went off, and I knew instantly what the scam was.
The clerk singled for me to stock and I complied by waiting at the front of the store. I also reminded the clerk that the sketchy fellow in the Raiders jacket, who had already made his way outside, exited the doors at the exact instant I did.
The clerk rushed outside and asked the man to come back in the store. The man complied. As we both waited at the front, the clerk asked the man where his bag was. The man lied, “I didn’t have one.”
Remember, the Starbucks cashier provided him with one several moments earlier.
The clerk took my bag and said he would be back. At that point, the man whose classic bait and switch strategy failed (I was unwittingly the bait), abruptly left the store. At that point I told the clerks that he did, indeed, have a bag, and seemed to have timed his exit to coincide perfectly with mine.
The clerk then chased him outside to recover the stolen merchandise.
I told another clerk that they would never find the merchandise on him, because he had likely ditched it or secured it elsewhere while everyone was distracted by me.
It turns out they found the bag in the foyer with a children’s book in it. The saddest thing about this story is that this guy risked jail time to steal for a child. Fortunately, he appears not to have succeeded in his crime.
I’m not sure why, but shoplifting has always fascinated me. That’s not to say that I shoplift, just that I find it interesting how prevalent it is, and i’m really interested in the ways stores go about preventing it. I spent two semesters at law school doing a criminal defense clinic and I remember talking to the security manager at a CVS about the security system at their store. He acknowledged that only one of the many cameras that were stationed all over the store actually was working and that the rest were just to intimidate shoplifters.
Many stores put security at the door not because there’s actually much they can do, but just to suggest to shoplifters that it would be a bad idea to attempt to take something from the store.
What fascinated me were his tactics. What’s even more fascinating to me was that these tactics had a military analogue that we sometimes referred to as “fix and mass.” If you controlled three platoons, you’d used one to fix the enemy in place with suppressive fires, and then outlank him with your other two platoons. The shoplifter evidently tried to use me to “fix” the store clerks while he outflanked them. It would’ve worked had I not quickly figured out what he was up to.
The other scary thing is that I sensed something was amiss before the guy even attempted to commit the crime. Very weird. All very Minority Report precrime like…
“Many stores put security at the door not because there’s actually much they can do, but just to suggest to shoplifters that it would be a bad idea to attempt to take something from the store.”
I feel exactly the same way about airport security.