Fri. Jan 27th, 2023

He was a Caucasian in his 40s.

Medium build. Somewhere between 5-foot 6 and 5-foot-10.

He had dark hair, wore Dockers-style pants and a light pastel short sleeve shirt.

If it sounds like I describing a suspect that committed a criminal act, I believe I am.

It was mid-Saturday afternoon at the Manteca Food-4-Less.

As I was entering the “entrance” that leads directly into the produce department, the man I described was coming straight at me past the center apple display.

I noticed he had a selection of produce, a few canned goods and what looked like bread items.

There were also a plastic milk cartoon in the fold down “child’s seat.”

He caught my attention by his somewhat brisk pace.

The man passed me just as I entered the door.

It took a few seconds to register.

He did not come from my left which is the passage leading from the checkout stands.

None of his items were bagged.

However, in pay-for-a-bag California that doesn’t mean anything as some shoppers  that don’t want to bother with bags or forking over money for plastic ones, will leave the stores with unbagged merchandise after paying for it that they placed back in their carts.

It registered with me after a few seconds. I came to a stop, turned around and said out loud “I think he just stole those items” just as another shopper was entering the store .

The guy behind me said “huh”?

I repeated what I said as I watched the guy in question reach the edge of the aisle of parked cars.

I ended up doing nothing.

In the next few minutes, I wrestled with it in  my mind.

I came to the conclusion that in all likelihood he did steal the items I also concluded  by the time I found a store employee nothing would be done.
I also know many stores advise their employees not to confront shoplifters.

Besides, even with rampant inflation the items he left the store with were less than $950 meaning it’s only a misdemeanor in California. That is a citation and a pat on the wrist with a possible slight fine if you are caught and successfully prosecuted.

I could have gone after the guy and asked him if he had paid for the items
I didn’t because on  Saturday I was hobbling around with a bruised or torn thigh muscle. But to be honest I’m not too sure if that wasn’t the case whether I would have done anything anyway.

Rest assured I probably had more guilt about my inaction than the guy did about his action.

 By chance, Yahoo News that evening posted an essay headlined “Now Grocery Stores are Punishing Us for not Buying Anything” from one piqued Laureen Harkawik.

She shared a story of a trip to a Vermont grocery store looking for one specific item  with her 18-month-old child strapped in the baby seat of the shopping cart.
When she couldn’t find the item, she opted to leave to head to another storer. She crossed through the threshold of the entrance with the kid still in the cart at what she described as a normal pace when the wheels locked.

It was a sudden jolt. And while the kid was not hurt and a store employee came over and “unlocked” the cart without question, she had issues with the security measure designed to stop shoplifting.

The cart she was using employed a device that locks up a cart as it crosses the doorway’s threshold. There are sensors in the bagging areas of each checkout lane that deactivates the locking device after a scan of less than 30 seconds.

Her beef included the following points:

*There was no way customers could return a cart to cart corrals located outside the store without the assistance of a store employee if people opted not to buy anything.

*If there was an incident where there was a fire, an active shooter, or some other emergency where people had to exit the store it would imperil their safety especially if they were pushing a child in a cart.

*She did not believe the cost of the technology was paying its own way in terms of losses it prevents,

*It makes the shopping experience “degrading” not just for shoppers put employees who have to “run around” and free shoppers carts that are locked at the threshold.

Stores have become sitting targets for shoplifters.

That includes professionals who pilfer items for resale to support drug habits and such and amateurs who often times claim they get a bigger charge out of the process of stealing more than anything else.

While specialty grocery stores such as Whole Foods, Sprouts Market and such have profit margins of 5 to 15 percent, mass market grocery stores such as Safeway and Food-4-Less have 1 to 2 percent profit margins. That’s data gleaned from the National Association of Retailers.

Retail stores in 2020 lost $3 billion through shoplifting. That’s $35 million a day according to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention.

That translates into 2.2 percent of gross revenue for stores.

That’s higher than the 1 to 2 percent profit margin for supermarkets that have the lowest profit margin in the retail industry.

The shoplifting prevention group also contends:

*There are 27 million shoplifters in the United States.

*More than 10 million people have been caught shoplifting in the past five years.

*Three quarters of all shoplifters are adults.

*Many shoplifters steal items during the same visit they are purchasing items.

*Shoplifters say they are caught on average of only once in every 48 times they steal. Once they are caught, they are turned over to police only 50 percent of the time.

*Some 3 percent of shoplifters are professionals who resell what they steal for money. They account for 10 percent of the overall dollar value of all shoplifting each year

*Habitual shoplifters steal an average of 1.6 times a week.

It’s clear technology is the best defense  stores have as well as alert customers.

A few years back while standing in  line at Target, a woman ahead of me had placed a number of items on the conveyor belt to be scanned.

I noticed she had missed a pair of sandals on the bottom rack of her shopping cart. I brought it to her attention.

She glared at me, grabbed the sandals, and tossed them into a candy rack while telling me with dripping disdain in her voice and an icy stare “I didn’t want those god-damned sandals anyway.”
I didn’t think she was stealing them.

I just thought she was overlooking them when unloading her cart.

After her response, I’m pretty sure that I was the jerk stranger who ruined her plans.


This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at







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