Chinese Grocers Mete Out Shoplifter Justice

Discussion
Jun 22, 2010
George Anderson

By George Anderson

The sad fact of the matter is that, where there are retail
stores, there is shoplifting. Organized retail crime, which gets much of the
press today, has been estimated to cost the industry somewhere between $15
billion and $30 billion a year. Individual theft remains a major problem, as
well. With so much going out the doors illegally, retailers have engaged in
a wide variety of loss prevention tactics.

Some Chinese grocers have gotten
the attention of shoplifters in New York for the price they pay when nabbed
by store security. According to a New York
Times
report, these grocers are applying the “Steal one, fine 10” rule
when a thief is caught. In essence, individuals caught shoplifting have the
option of paying up with interest or getting turned over to the police.

“We usually fine them $400,” Tem Shieh, the manager of A & N
Food Market on Main Street in Flushing, Queens, told the Times. “If
they don’t have the money, then we usually hold their identification
and give them a chance to go get it.”

The store operators will also photograph the perpetrator holding the stolen
merchandise and threaten to display the shot in the store. Most people, according
to retailers interviewed for the article, find a way of coming up with the
money to avoid public embarrassment and possible arrest. Others, who might
be not be U.S. citizens, may have concerns about possible deportation.

“Two weeks ago, a woman tried to take two bags of grapes worth maybe
$10,” said
Mr. Shieh. “She came back with eight new $50 bills.”

While many
think the system works to deter criminals, others question whether the practice
is legal.

“If a store owner says he’ll call the police unless you pay up,
that’s
extortion, that’s illegal,” said Steven Wong, a community advocate
in New York’s Chinatown, told the Times. “And putting up pictures
in public, calling someone a thief who has never even been formally charged,
that’s a violation of their civil rights.”

Discussion Question: Have Chinese grocers in New York developed an innovative
way to deter crime or are they committing crimes themselves?

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25 Comments on "Chinese Grocers Mete Out Shoplifter Justice"


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Bob Phibbs
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

Love it. Chinese grocers seem to have a good–though I’m sure flawed–way to deter thieves.

When the Glendale Galleria first opened in California, they paraded handcuffed shoplifters through the entire complex, both levels. Merchants came out to stare. Shoplifting was rare.

David Livingston
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

These are the kinds of stories I like to read. Bravo to the independent Chinese operators. If the shoplifters don’t like the rules then they can call the police themselves. These shoplifters are getting off easy. I know some independent operators in New York that dish out harsher punishment than just asking for a fine. It makes shopping a safer experience and it does not put stress on public resources such as the police and courts.

Really, this is no different than when someone writes a bad check and the store and bank charge them a hefty fee for their error in judgment. Shoplifting is a big expense and store owners have a right to profit from it. We have a situation in Madison where the police are upset with some big-box retailers because of excessive calls regarding shoplifting. The police do not want to be called if the value is below $50. I think the stores and police in Madison should try this.

Warren Thayer
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

I’m sure it is a huge deterrent, but it’s inevitable that some merchant is going to get sued, and lose his or her business over it.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
10 years 10 months ago

Every culture has its standards–or lack thereof. The Chinese grocers in New York know how important it is for their customers to “save face.” That’s gives them a rather unique advantage in fight shoplifting in their environment.

So, outside the tenets of U.S. laws, those grocers apply shoplifting deterrents related to accepted cultural beliefs. It isn’t legal or necessarily fair but it works there.

This, however, doesn’t seem to be a cultural condition throughout the U.S. In many locations where shoplifting occurs, the grocer can likely become the culprit in shoplifting cases as the wrath of the ethical and legal associations are frequently cast against the grocer. That, too, isn’t always legal or fair.

Max Goldberg
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

While retailer-imposed fines may deter some crime, they are a form of extortion. Likewise, calling someone a thief by posting their picture in a store, before they have been through due process is legally questionable. Shoplifting is a problem that needs to be aggressively pursued, but these two “solutions” are not the answer.

Ron Margulis
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

The ethics surrounding the practice of charging shoplifters 10 times the value of the stolen merchandise are murky at best. To clear those waters, the merchants should consider donating those “fines” to a local food bank or another charitable group.

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
10 years 10 months ago

Bravo to these retailers for coming up with an approach that is truly effective. The common perception is that shoplifting is some kind of one-off occurrence by some poor souls. In NY, this is a well-organized profession that costs everyone, retailer and shopper, alike. The sad part, as already mentioned is that the ACLU or some other “criminal rights” organization is sure to get involved. Until then, good for these retailers.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

It has all been said above. Love the concept but it won’t fly for long under the American system of justice. Even when caught in the act someone is not guilty until the legal system says they are.

What would happen if Wal-Mart or even Nordstrom attempt to apply this kind of justice? If they cannot do it, neither can the small grocery store.

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
10 years 10 months ago

Certainly, the Chinese grocers get points for creativity, but I’m afraid this is just a form of vigilantism or prairie justice and I don’t think we want to go there.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

Is this what we call a win-win? It is a neat idea. But, there is a hint of blackmail. I imagine the recent notoriety will limit the practice as well as shoplifting.

Mark Burr
Guest
10 years 10 months ago
Some may call it extortion. Some may call it a violation of civil rights. Others might call it a great practice and a real deterrent to crime. Nevertheless, as a society, we have ceded certain crimes to the criminal. Most agencies either won’t respond below certain limits or won’t respond at all. Shoplifting has become an acceptable crime to communities and society as a whole. Criminal shoplifters know that. While this might work in the stores run by certain operators, it may simply push the activity into other stores. Most retailers would be afraid to institute a practice as it is described. Certainly a chain or national merchant can’t because of their legal staffs wouldn’t allow it for fear of reprisal and litigation. Independents such as these have less fear of such action and move ahead with these types of practices and will do so as long as they can. For now, it’s a deterrent to shoplifting getting worse. It’s likely not to eliminate it altogether. Organized shoplifters have even less fear than the retailer… Read more »
Cathy Hotka
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

I think David Livingston nailed it. My husband ran the loss prevention function for a local chain, and had difficulty attracting the attention of the police after violent crime. They certainly couldn’t have cared less about shoplifting. This new kind of prairie justice has some perverse appeal.

Robert Craycraft
Guest
Robert Craycraft
10 years 10 months ago

When I worked in department store retailing in the early 1980s, we used to release small-time offenders if they would sign an affidavit not to enter any of our stores for a period of five years. Some civil rights group came after us and we had to stop, can’t recall on what basis.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

Hooray for the Chinese Justice System. If I recall there are few violent crimes in the Asian world. So there is something to the internal justice these retailers are meting out. I like it. Maybe if we were not so concerned about the rights of the thieves; we could begin to reduce the high crime rate we experience.

I heard a report last night that the Stockton, CA. Police Department Union took out billboards apologizing to the citizens that because of budget cuts they were going to be hard pressed to protect them. I doubt this will be the case in the Chinese areas of major cities when the word of how New York retailers are protecting themselves.

We need to take a page from the Chinese culture and begin to teach a lesson to thieves that “we are mad as hell and not going to put up with this anymore.” Imagine having to pay $400.00 for a $10.00 bag of stolen groceries!

robert spizman
Guest
robert spizman
10 years 10 months ago

It’s extortion. It’s the 21st century–we are a civilized country. The retailer should lose their license to operate. Shoplifting is a misdemeanor, extortion is a felony. I cannot believe this is published and no one has intervened.

Dan Berthiaume
Guest
Dan Berthiaume
10 years 10 months ago

I’m no lawyer, so I won’t comment on the legality of this practice, but I have to admit a part of me smiled when I read about this. Especially for a one-store operation that cannot spread its losses across hundreds or thousands of stores, theft is a huge problem. If I was an independent grocer and this practice dramatically deterred my crime, I’d probably use it, as I think most people would given the circumstances.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

Yes, the legality of this is in question. However, if the police are bothered to respond to petty theft incidents, they should provide suggestions to the retailer on how to effectively handle the situation within the limits of the law. With emphasis on the word, “effectively.”

Robert Straub
Guest
Robert Straub
10 years 10 months ago

While most shoplifters are non-violent, petty criminals, they all aren’t, and I imagine that one day a shoplifter will return to a store to retrieve his ID with a firearm instead of money. This shouldn’t be discounted–people make bad decisions, that’s why they’re shoplifting in the first place.

Jonathan Marek
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

While I understand and sympathize with these shopkeepers, this is vigilantism and it is wrong. However, it is very frustrating when the justice system doesn’t do its job in stopping these types of crimes.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

How colorful! (And how–insert your ethnic stereotype of choice–here.) There seems to be a disconnect, however, because the basic premise that “threatening” someone with police exposure is a deterrent, and the claims that this system is necessary because police won’t respond to shoplifting calls…if the latter is true, how long will this scheme work once that fact becomes well known?

Dan Desmarais
Guest
Dan Desmarais
10 years 10 months ago

I applaud the attempt to bring justice while the system is lacking.

Maybe it would work with a sign out front warning of the consequences. Give the “proceeds” to a charity and you might just get a crafty lawyer to buy off on it. You should be able to post the pictures once you get a conviction.

Michael Rockafellow
Guest
Michael Rockafellow
10 years 10 months ago

I love this policy. It is people like Steven Wong, the community advocate, who are the ruin of America. Shoplifters cost us all.

David McClendon
Guest
David McClendon
10 years 10 months ago

I like this. The concern that somehow the shoplifter’s civil rights are being violated is ludicrous. Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time. Is it extortion? Maybe, but so what? If I were on a jury and it was deciding a civil rights case against the grocers I would come down on the side of the grocer.

I agree that a warning should be placed in the shop that says “Shoplifters will be fined OR turned over to the police” might protect them. But, I am no lawyer.

Just another reason we need tort reform. We need to give the rights back the the people who deserve them. Not to the thieves who choose to break the law.

We need a little more Bat Masterson in the world and a little less Perry Mason.

Michael Baker
Guest
Michael Baker
10 years 10 months ago

David, I completely agree with you. If this is violation of civil rights and extortion then I think your great society can benefit from more of it. I mean, for goodness sakes, you execute criminals or stuff the prisons full of them. Why wouldn’t you support some independent grocer who is taking the strain of off the justice system? It lowers costs all around.

Eliott Olson
Guest
Eliott Olson
10 years 10 months ago

Shrink is the bane of the retail industry. Most shoplifters are compulsive if they are not professional. In either case their take exceeds what they were just caught stealing. If the thief confessed to previous crimes and estimated an amount I would let him settle a civil claim out of court. If the guy was a jerk and insisted that he put the merchandise down his pants just to carry it because he did not have a cart, I prosecuted even though it would cost me time and money. Americans have a right and duty to protect their person and property. Let the thief beware.

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