When I was a senior in high school, I finally obtained the coveted position of supervisor at the grocery store where I worked. It was a position I'd wanted to have for quite a while (in kid-time), but I couldn't legally until I turned 18. Those in charge were also reluctant for me to have the post because I was going to college in short order. But I convinced them, gaining all the privileges and responsibilities of the post.
One night at the beginning of summer, when I was working the late shift, I noticed a woman in her late 30s moving through the aisles with one of our red baskets - the hand-held kind - and filling it with food. As this was a grocery store, that wasn't unusual in the least. What was unusual was how everything in the basket was buried under several plastic bags.
I was the only authority in the store. My heart pounded as I watched her from the end of the aisle. What to do? According to my training, I was supposed to wait until she stepped out the door - the moment when she became a thief - and then call the cops, not interacting with her at all.
I'd been given no loss prevention training, so I didn't know that it was better to walk up to her and ask if she needed help (to make her realize she was being watched). So instead, I waited until she walked briskly out the front door with an incredibly heavy basket.
As I followed her out the door, I shouted. "Ma'am, can I see your receipt?"
I'm sure now that I didn't really think this through. But she was clearly a novice thief.
The woman apologized, saying that she'd "forgotten" to pay for the items. She was nervous as all get-up as I walked her back into the store to pay for them.
She set down the basket for the only other employee in the store to ring up. There were many items in that basket beneath all kinds of empty plastic bags, but the only ones I remember were the jars of baby food. There weren't just a few - about a third of what she tried to steal was baby food.
Items that were rung up had to be removed - she couldn't pay for them. Remove these items - still too expensive. Remove these - okay, she could afford this. She barely looked up the whole time, upset and embarrassed as she was.
She walked out with fewer groceries, but they were all paid for. I'd managed my end of the deal.
If I'd been more aware in that new position, I'd have given her the numbers of some food pantries. At the least, I hope being caught and narrowly avoiding legal trouble made her rethink what she was doing and seek help.
Maybe it was all part of an act, and I fell for it. But I don't think it was, and I'm still glad I didn't call the cops.