... the policy says we let them go. You read it here first.
Prompted by this post about Wal-Mart customers who jumped an off-duty police officer trying to detain a shoplifter (read the original story at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution) over at thewritingonthewal.net, I've been asked to weigh in on Wal-Mart's theft policies.
One of the only things I remember from my first few days of cashier training was the manager at the time telling us "if someone puts a gun to your head, give them the money. We can replace the money. We can't replace you. If a shoplifter runs, let them run. It is someone else's job to chase them."
Whose job is it? Well. OK. We used to have two positions for associates called "Loss Prevention." Two guys who wore regular clothes and walked around the store and snooped on people and watched cameras. The whole nine yards.
We used to get regular visits from the Regional Loss Prevention dude, who was six three and scary in his own right. He spoke at cashier meetings and turned out to be very friendly if you didn't have your fingers in the till. If you ever saw him when there wasn't a meeting scheduled, you knew someone was going out in steel bracelets.
Anyway. Before the two Loss Prevention guys we had left, one of them gave me the scoop on their jobs. This is second-hand information, make of it what you will:
1. Wal-Mart Loss Prevention associates were only authorized to do "takedowns" with management approval. Otherwise, the thief was to be allowed to walk out of the store if all other security countermeasures (aggressive customer service, security tags, et. al.) failed
2. Wal-Mart carried insurance policies on each Loss Prevention Associate in the event they were injured in a takedown AND to pay for injuries to an alleged thief in the event of a takedown.
The "Loss Prevention" posts were "redefined" to become "Asset Protection." One in-store position was cut. The district Loss Prevention position job was left unfilled when the person in the post moved on.
All in-store Asset Protection posts became more about keeping an eye on internal spots for employees to steal than to stop shoplifters. For about 13 months, no one was actually in our store walking the sales floor checking for shoplifters - other than the overworked, underpaid and entirely-not-giving-a-flying-fudge associates. Which is how we hit $2.7M in shrink for 2006. Baby, baby, that ain't no lie. Bye, mer-chan-dise, bye!
So now we have someone protecting the assets, but not preventing the losses. This is how it works at the House of Wal.
Everyone, from Management down to Loss Prevention/Asset Protection, has one thing to say about regular associates wanting to "help out" and tackle a suspected shoplifter. "DON'T DO IT." By all means, go up to them, talk to them, offer to help them, give some aggressive customer service, but DO NOT CHASE OR TACKLE THEM IF THEY RUN, FIGHT OR PUT UP A STRUGGLE.
Nobody ever said anything official, but word was that Wal-Mart's bean counters felt that the cost of paying insurance policies on two associates to do loss prevention, plus pay out in the event they injured someone or got injured, plus the obligatory "Wal-Mart Loss Prevention hurt my back lawsuits," plus their salary and benefits was just too much.
Too much compared to what? Compared to the cost of writing off the shrink and excusing it on the corporate balance sheet as a valid cost of doing business. So there's no real money lost - because it has already been accounted for.
Let's see. One way involves paying salary, benefits, insurance and potentially lawyers and lawsuits. The other just involves a bit more paperwork (and work for the Claims associates) on top of the shrink that was already happening.
And really the bean counters said, every Wal-Mart associate is supposed to always be on the lookout to prevent shoplifters by providing such aggressive, excellent customer service.
Uh-huh. Remind that to the woman in Fabric who caught a woman slitting open DVDs with a box-cutter. When she confronted her, the woman held out the box-cutter and said "Whachu you gonna do b****?"
About six months ago, we finally got another Asset Protection person, and policy changed yet again to have the Asset Protection spend at least a nominal amount of time on the sales floor.
But no one is to tackle a shoplifter. Not Asset Protection. Not management. Not Buddha. Not Jesus. Not Kali. Not Shiva. Not Brigham Young. Not Steve Young. Not Cthulu (although it may be moot if he is in the game). NO ONE.
So, really, I'm not shocked that no one jumped in to help the cop.
Actually, I'm not shocked the customers joined in. If our ghetto-trash customers saw a brawl with a cop, they'd probably jump to help out whoever was getting arrested too!