Hardware wants to be free, or something

If you’re planning to swipe stuff from the Home Depot, you might consider visiting the Midwest City store, which recently fired four staffers for catching thieves:

A former Home Depot employee said the company fired he [sic] and three other workers because they helped police catch several suspected shoplifters in May. Midwest City police said the men helped officers catch suspected shoplifters as they tried to run from a store with lawn equipment.

An internal memo from Home Depot outlines that associates cannot accuse, detain, chase or call the police on any customer for shoplifting. However, one of the fired employees said the company is selective in enforcing that policy.

One has to assume that this is due to fear of litigation: the company presumably doesn’t want to be sued by someone falsely accused. (Or, for that matter, by someone who isn’t falsely accused but figures he can impress twelve people who couldn’t figure out how to get out of jury duty.) The price of that fear: thieves having free run of the place, and employees catching flak for low loss-prevention scores that they’re not allowed to do anything about.

And it’s not like there was a whole lot of doubt in this particular case:

“We saw them with the merchandise. We saw them run out of the store. I never kept my eyes off of them. Then when we asked them for a receipt, and that’s when they dropped the merchandise and they kept running. One guy still had a chainsaw while he was running, and that’s when the cops tackled him.”

Down the street at Circuit City a few months back, a chap was reprimanded for having the temerity to pursue a couple of urchins who were trying to make off with a brace of Xbox 360s.

Is there a solution to this? I don’t know. I don’t think anyone’s quite ready for arming the entire store staff. On the other hand, a trail of dead shoplifters might have some small but measurable deterrent value.


  1. McGehee »

    6 June 2007 · 8:53 am

    Is there a solution to this?

    Well, one possible solution is that we all stop paying for what we get from those stores, and see if it wakes up their management. But that may still be a tad extreme.

  2. Venomous Kate »

    6 June 2007 · 8:58 am

    I wonder if these stores’ insurance companies know about this policy?

  3. Mister Snitch! »

    6 June 2007 · 9:17 am

    The fired employees said the policy enforced the policy ‘selectively’. What they should have said was ‘selectively AND badly’. The solution to this, obviously, is management capable of making better decisions.

    The problem is Home Depot management, which (for reasons beyond the scope of this story) needs a serious housecleaning. This story demonstrates how employee initiative at Home Depot is rewarded by middle management, but this sort of thing starts at the very top — and there’s no hope there, either.

    Go to your average Home Depot, and more often than not you’ll find a disspirited, demoralized staff – if you can find the staff at all. Then, go to a Lowe’s, which is run the way Home Depot advertises itself to be. You’ll see the difference.

  4. Dwight »

    6 June 2007 · 9:31 am

    It’s always better to have employees that don’t bleed. Eating the cost (at cost) of lawn equipment is much more beneficial than injured or dead employees. Home Depot is insured…they’re not going to suffer.

    Stealing a few hundred bucks in merch from Home Depot is no different than the neighbor kids on your front lawn. You run out the door and shake your fist, but you don’t agressively pursue them. They’re doing a bad thing…but there’s a certain threshold for your reaction.

  5. Dan B »

    6 June 2007 · 10:05 am

    Home Depot merchandise is insured, the employees aren’t except for Workman’s Comp.

    Home Depot turns a profit on stolen merchandise by charging the insurance the full Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price instead of the day-to-day customer price. Workman’s Comp insurance cost Home Depot money, and more for every claim against it.

    Home Depot’s “anti-theft” policy is to keep insurance claims down enough to keep from being dropped by their insurance, and that’s it. A certain percentage of theft is actually preferrable to none.

  6. Ron »

    6 June 2007 · 10:38 am

    I remember when the UPS (or was it FEDEX) guy used his truck to block the armed robber at the 7-11 store in OKC … he was lauded as a hero and if I’m not mistaken given a citation for bravery by the city but got fired by his company. This is probably the biggest signal in the world to every thief and scumbag in the world to start coming to Home Depot … hmmm, maybe they already go there … LOL!

  7. Mister Snitch! »

    6 June 2007 · 10:42 am

    I appreciate what Dwight and Dan have to say about the nature of this policy. I understand it.

    Nevertheless, I think firing employees who demonstrate this sort of proprietary interest in Home Depot’s business is a big mistake. Explain to them why they should not do it, and take the opportunity to remind staff what the policy is. But firing them just demoralizes the remaining staff, reinforcing any bad feelings they may already harbor toward the company.

  8. Mister Snitch! »

    6 June 2007 · 10:47 am

    I rather like the idea of arming the whole staff. Gunfight at Home Depot … wicked cool. There he is, behind the patio set! He’s making a break for it on the riding mower! Look out, he’s grabbed a nail gun!!!

  9. Dan B »

    6 June 2007 · 7:09 pm

    I know the kind of people who end up working at Home Depot. They have no business being armed.

    I don’t like the policy, but it’s the same one we had in my restaurant days concerning robbers and check-skips. The difference is that we didn’t PROFIT from being robbed like Home Depot does.

  10. Joel »

    7 June 2007 · 12:46 am

    I happen to work at a retail establishment run by a decent-sized national retailer. Our company has no policy against pursuing shoplifters. In fact I’ve half-chased a couple of perps on a few occasions. Others in the store have full-chased shoplifters.

    At least in Florida, the law is on the side of the stores – my policeman friend says you can actually put a pretty good hurting on a shoplifter and be protected from at least criminal charges (lawsuits are another story). Individual retailers do however often create their own rules.

    But all that is contingent on having seen the perps actually take an item and waiting for them to cross the threshold. Unfortunately without constantly monitored security cameras – a luxury only the biggest stores can afford – that’s pretty difficult.

    Except when they’re taking a chainsaw, I guess.

  11. Jason »

    9 June 2007 · 12:58 am

    Having about 15 years previously in the retail business, the phrase “trail of dead shoplifters” made me smile just a little bit.

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