Tuesday, February 07, 2006

'Dunced' at Ace

Crime Scene

Saw something unusual this past weekend.

I was in the checkout line at the local Ace Hardware when a 30-ish man tried to walk out with the goods. Apparently some employee saw him stuff his pockets with loose metal. A couple of Ace guys nabbed him just outside the door and took him inside to call the police.

As they perp walked him past those of us in line the guy looked like he was going to wet himself. I really felt bad for him. At least the white collar criminals who get frog-marched past their office employees usually steal something meaty. This guy got a facial for a handful of bolts.

It reminded me of a year I spent working in the Stanford University Bookstore when I was an undergrad.

I was the head security guard for the bookstore. Obviously, the qualifications for that job weren't too demanding in the late 70's. A different time. Hard to imagine someone less tempermentally suited for labor like that. But the pay was good and it got me jaw time with friends.

In between long stretches reading books and hanging out with the buds we actually had to track shoplifters from time to time.

I learned a lot about people on that job.

We had one 16 year old pull a heavy Stanford sweatshirt and sweatpants over his clothes and try to walk out the front door during a 90 degree day. The price tags were still dangling from the sweats. The guy had the common sense of a tree stump. Teens aren't clever thieves :^)

And you had your adult clepto types too. I liked these guys better than anyone we caught. They were like your drunk inner city friend with a good story.

We nabbed one wealthy woman from Los Altos Hills a number of times trying to walk out with very expensive editions of classic literature. We got to know her on a first name basis. She was charming. Couldn't keep her hands off the high class goodies, though. The store manager decided not to prosecute her the first few times but we finally turned her over to the police. Everybody, including the store manager, felt sort of bad about it.

The book store manager had to be thoughtful. Hard to see a student expelled over stealing a handful of pens. Hard to see alums embarrassed. So we rarely prosecuted anyone but multiple offenders.

The most common thieves, though, were folks that did it because they could.

These types loved the challenge of taking something and getting away with it. We called them "gamers."

These were rich people who would come in and try to walk out with stuff worth a couple of bucks. Or students who would plot the store and figure out how to systematically loot serious goods.

We were taught to wait until an obvious shoplifter was outside the store before we grabbed 'em. The basic technique was to come up behind them and grab them firmly on the shoulder with one hand and then confront them very publicly and in a firm voice about the stolen merchandise.

The idea was to publicly shame em so they'd never try stealing again.

The Stanford Bookstore looks out onto a plaza normally filled with hundreds of people coming and going. So if you got confronted on the front steps of the store lots of folks got a close look at you.

We called it "duncing" somebody. As in dunce with a pointy hat. We used the term for the humiliation angle but also because you've gotta be a dummy to get caught shoplifting. For every person caught another five walk out with the merchandise untouched. The GNP of developing world nations disappear off American shelves every year.

Duncing worked with most people. They got red faced and shaky.

But the gamers rarely showed emotion. Seemed like it was just a temporary setback to them. Scary people if you ask me.

Who knows where those very bright Stanford gamers--some with unusual leadership gifts--ended up :^)

I felt bad for the guy at Ace, but it was good to see he could still blush.


Anonymous John Teter said...

Wordcat, nice job at Stanford. I remember getting dunced in fourth grade by Mrs. Duncan for stealing Mad Libs at the book fair. I blushed big time, had to write my Mom a letter and did not shoplift again (or at least was never caught again).

I hope the guy at Ace learns quickly.

1:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How humiliating to get dunced for a pocketfull of hardware. This lesson of stealing usually is learned when you are young and take the book from the book fair or candy from the store. How many kids have been marched back to the store by their mother after being discovered with stolen sweets? Maybe those that don't blush never had to experience that as a kid. Being labeled a thief for nuts and bolts hardly seems worth it.

6:25 AM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

Yeah, I got caught two or three times as a kid John, so I guess I fall into the dummy category :^)

Maybe you're right anon, about the gamers never experiencing that as kids. But I don't know. I think some folks are just pretty cold blooded. We actually celebrate that 'quality' in athletes and politicians.

11:02 AM  

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