For some reason I feel like I need to comment on the recent story in the news about the guy who refused to allow clerks at his local Wal-Mart or whatever store it was, to check his bag and receipt before leaving the store.
It’s very easy to dismiss people as being too sensitive if they feel degraded or dehumanized upon being asked to submit to such a search. But the fact is, security or “loss prevention” personnel are often overzealous in their pursuit of potential shoplifters. Further, they are often quite ill-informed as to the parameters of their authority. Customers who are equally quite ill-informed of their own rights may be easily intimidated into submitting to searches when they do not need to.
The simple legal fact of the matter is that no personnel or security officer in any department store or shopping mall has any legal right to detain, restrain or direct your action in any way other than to remove you from the premises. This they can do only by calling the police, who then may do the actual physical ‘ejecting’ from the premises. Even if witnessed or filmed shoplifting, no loss prevention employee has the legal right to restrain you. However, if they have evidence that you are indeed shoplifting they can and will call the police and attempt to keep you in the store until the police arrive, even though legally they do not have the authority to do this.
Unless ‘deputized’ by an appropriate law enforcement agency, such as a sherriff’s department for example, loss prevention personnel or security guards are there merely to observe and record alleged crimes and to then apprehend or detain the suspect as much as possible without actually tackling you and handcuffing you. Despite having no authority to physically detain anyone, many security and LP employees will do just that. Generally, neither the security guard or the victim is aware that this is a gross overstepping of legal boundaries. You can actually press charges against someone for assaulting or menacing you if this happens.
In my own experience, I can recall an incident that took place at the Cobleskill Fair a number of years ago, where a fair security guard got my attention and directed me to come with him to an undisclosed location where he wanted to “ask me some questions”. Apparently I fit some description of a perpetrator of recent acts of vandalism or some other such thing. Anyway, I felt no need to comply with the request of this individual and turned and walked away. Then, I noticed he was chasing me, so I decided to run from him. Why not? This person has no legal right to question me or take me anywhere. By the way, at the time I was a minor (I was 12!).
So after a few seconds I decide to stop running and give this guy a piece of my mind. But before I could turn around he tackled me to the ground and proceeded to forcibly restrain me. He then picked me up off the ground and continued to restrain me in a headlock! A twelve year old in a headlock, can you imagine! Finally, my mother notices this situation and basically goes ballistic on this guy.
At the time, I didn’t really know what the legal issues involved were, but my parents insisted that we file a police report with the Cobleskill Village police, which we did. Hesitantly, the police took a report and agreed to file a charge of menacing against this security guard.
We were actually in the process of moving out of the area, so we didn’t really follow through on the charges, and I’m not actually sure if the guy ended up actually getting cuffed or just ticketed. But the point is, such an unsanctioned use of force by overzealous security guards or loss prevention personnel is illegal, and if you press the issue you can get justice.
There is also an element of profiling inherent in many of these cases. You know minorities and young people (especially young people dressed differently) are going to be profiled and picked on more than others. This makes this all the more egregious!
My suggestion is that people inform themselves of what their rights actually are. If you’re walking out of Wal-Mart and an employee requests to inspect your bag and see your receipt, just tell them no thanks and keep walking. They have no legal authority whatsoever to forcibly inspect your person or property. Would it be a whole lot easier to simply submit? Would you be avoiding a whole lot of drama and commotion by just giving it? Yes, but take it from me, there is a real sense of satisfaction derived from telling these people to fuck off. I guess it is the part of me that never grew out of my headstrong and rebellious teen years, but it still feels pretty damn good. And hey, there’s always the chance that some idiot will try and tackle you and ya might just get a lawsuit out of it if you’re lucky.