Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Macy's, Not Sleeping on the Beat

As I was walking out through the 7th avenue doors of Macy's on 34th street in New York (pictured left) this afternoon about 3:3opm about 6 security guys in identical blue blazers and ties were walking a young man back into the store. They'd obviously busted him for shoplifting, the guys hands were bound behind him with these thin white plastic strips.

He was tall, about 6'2" and he couldn't have been more than 17. He looked mid-eastern or sort of Pacific-Asian and had a handsome gentle face. He was dressed quite well and stylishly urban.

What had he stolen and why? I wondered. He looked like a "good kid". It's wrong to steal merchandise from any store of course, but I felt sorry for him. There was this uncomfortable moment when we passed, customers were stopping to look at him with disapproving looks; a little Hispanic girl no older than 5 clutched her mother's pants leg and looked up at the perp with wide dark eyes as he was led past.

Some part of him had to be embarrassed but he held his head high and stared straight ahead and as I glanced at the meaty left hand of a powerfully built security guard guiding the kid in, I sensed fear in the young shoplifter.

The security guys looked all charged up and exhilarated from the chase, one was breathing heavily and talking excitedly into a walkie talkie; no doubt alerting headquarters that they'sd bagged their guy. In the past couple years there've been some incidents of shoppers, mostly poor minorities but others as well, being falsely accused of shoplifting and taken by Macy's police and held there for unusually long periods.

A grandmother in Georgia was awarded $1.2 million for being falsely accused of shoplifting at Macy's.

Many retail stores are fighting back at shoplifters with elaborate security systems and small quasi-incarceration areas run by private police who process shoplifters by entering their personal information and photo into a national database and serving up stiff fines that must be paid to the store to prevent the real police being contacted.

I guess I'm wary of private policing in this nation given that the prison system is in itself an industry. But it doesn't make sense to clog the NYPD's time and the city's courts with people who try to steal merchandise from a store. So I think the private police system is a valid concept.

I can't seem to shake the image of the boy I saw this afternoon being led to the private police station in Macy's. I really hope the security personnel's professionalism and training is valid too.

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