Dobbing in shoplifters - A letter sent to Everything Geraldton

To dob, or not to dob.....

Today, I witnessed an incident of blatant shoplifting.

One of several incidents I’ve either witnessed personally, or been aware of in my vicinity in the last month or two. One of many I’ve witnessed over many years.

I have pretty strong feelings about theft in general and, having spent many years working in the retail sector, about shoplifting in particular, and today I found myself re-visiting something that happened to me not long ago.

A while back, I found myself in a group situation where I felt not only that I was being negatively judged for having said that I would (in fact, have), reported someone who I witnessed shoplifting to store staff, but actually felt belittled and judged for having done so. The initial response by the people I was with was “why would you do that?”, followed by “perhaps they were genuinely in need”. (For the record, the incident I had mentioned involved the theft of CD’s from a charity shop).

There was also a sense of disbelief that people actually do report such incidences. I left feeling like a piece of shit for having had the guts to admit to reporting/preventing crime, and I felt that people were disbelieving about my claims that this type of reporting is actually not uncommon.

I spent a pretty sleepless night wondering whether I am over-judgemental, self-righteous etc. And then I decided to ask other people how they felt.

Turns out, a lot of people I know feel the same way I do.

Most people said they either would report, or have reported, shoplifting.

Several people said that they hadn’t, but only because they were too scared to do so because of fear of reprisals.

100% of those who worked in retail said that not only do people report these incidents, but that it happens regularly. Like daily. Like multiple times in a day.

I’m still a little confused. Am I (and my friends) a more judgemental group than society in general? Am I less sympathetic/empathetic towards others in need?

Actually, I don’t think I am.

I’m the first generation of my family to raise their children in a financial situation that is considered “above the poverty line”. My family knew what it is to live in a world before social security. And even when social security became available, my parents chose to work long hours, for very little money, rather than “bludge”.

You see in my family, and many others, if you couldn’t afford it, you went without.

So do I still feel shamed for dobbing in a shoplifter?

No, I don’t.

I don’t in any way wish to belittle those who find themselves in need, or without financial support. I would like to think that I would show compassion towards someone who I felt might be in genuine need. I’d like to think that if I saw a mother with kids in tow, stealing baked beans and noodles to feed the family, I’d offer to help. If I saw the same person stealing luxury items that I as a working, tax-paying parent can’t afford, I’d probably be less sympathetic.

I’m actually pretty comfortable with the idea of reporting someone stealing. Especially when we’re talking about CD’s, makeup, jewellery, fashion items etc. Or all the random items that are stolen just for fun, then discarded in the street. Or the stuff that’s stolen and then used to commit acts of vandalism.

An article that appeared on the ABC website today quoted: “National Retail Association chief executive Dominique Lamb said theft cost the Australian retail industry $4.5 billion each year, or about 2.2 per cent of annual retail turnover”

That’s $4,500,000,000.00 per year.

Just in Australia.

Shoplifting costs every one of us. Including the many people who are in dire financial situations, but choose to live in honest poverty, rather than stoop to theft and dishonesty to improve their lot.

Isn’t it about time we started judging those who think it’s OK to steal, and who defend those who do steal, rather than belittling and judging those who take a stand against theft?

- Geraldton local