Teen shoplifters challenge authority

Photo by Dan Chmielinski

Zoe Shancer, asst. features editor

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She walked into the retail store and looked around, until a necklace caught her eye. She had the money to pay for it but wanted it for free. She slowly slipped the necklace around her wrist and let it fall into her jacket sleeve. Looking around casually, she made her way towards the exit. She left through the doors of the store, and in a few blocks she took out her new necklace and put  it on.

Whether you call this type of act the “five finger discount”, “lifting”, “jacking”, “racking”, “nicking” or “boosting”, shoplifting is a crime, and one which has been committed by some South students.

According to an Oracle –conducted survey of 327 students, 29 percent have shoplifted an item at some point in their lives, while 71 percent of students know someone who has shoplifted.

According to criminallawyer.com, sentencing for shoplifting depends on the dollar amount of the goods that are taken. If the value of the items is $300 or less, the offense is a class A misdemeanor. The possible sentence includes up to one year in jail and a fine of $2,500.

If the total value of merchandise is greater than $300, the shoplifter can be charged with a Class 4 felony. This can potentially result in a sentence of one to three years in prison and a fine of $25,000.

Junior Marty Rochester* is part of this 29 percent, as he has shoplifted small items from stores like Walgreens. Rochester used to shoplift large items regularly before he realized the potential consequences.

“When I first started [shoplifting] I was stealing lots of headphones, web cams, video games, mp3 players, clothes, iPod accessories and large memory flash drives, all at multiple [electronic stores],” Rochester said.

Rochester began shoplifting his sophomore year after seeing someone else shoplift. After shoplifting a few times, he realized he liked the adrenaline rush of stealing, as well as the money he made selling those items. He eventually became capable of stealing up to $500 worth of merchandise at a time.

The process for shoplifting small and large items is different, according to Rochester.

“If it is small and not over $50 then I most likely wouldn’t expect sensors, but I eventually developed an eye for whether or not the item had a sensor by its casing,” he said. “In this case you simply slide it in your pocket or put  it in the waist strap of your pants and walk out.”

Rochester said that stealing larger and more expensive items is much more difficult than stealing smaller items. When stealing one large item, Rochester would put it in the waist strap of his pants, which he would cover with a jacket. For multiple items, he would slip them into a string- tie soccer bag and proceed to the bathroom.

“[I would] go into a bigger stall and act as if [I were] going to the bathroom,” Rochester said. “While doing so, [I would] take out the pocket knife [I] brought with, and quickly and quietly slice open packaging of items. [I would] watch out for customers and employees in the bathroom and remove all sensors [on the items].”

He put the items back in his bag and covered the packaging and sensors with paper towels in the garbage can. The final step for Rochester was to walk out of the store casually. Rochester implemented strategies to keep suspicion off of him or to buy himself more time.

“I even ask questions about merchandise as if I was truly interested, or ask where the bathroom is to make me look like I don’t know that particular store,” Rochester said.

Rochester explained his feelings following his exit from a store after shoplifting. ” After I shoplift I feel like I beat the system and that I just accomplished something difficult that most people don’t have the guts, capability and technique to do,” Rochester said.

In total, Rochester has stolen about $2,500 worth of merchandise from electronic stores. He is now, however, completely against shoplifting because he has realized how easy it is to get caught.

Junior Aaron Turner* is against shoplifting as well, as he shoplifted once and never plans to do it again. Turner noted that he attempted to steal  a $30 pair of sunglasses from Golf Mill but was caught as he was leaving the store. Turner shoplifted because he wanted to feel the energy of rebelling.

“Sometimes it’s just kind of fun to do stuff that you’re not supposed to,” Turner said. “Everyone does it once in a while and you just have a rush. You [think it] doesn’t seem bad. You’re not hurting anyone, and then you don’t think about the consequences.”

Turner explained that he took the sunglasses, put them in his pocket and was grabbed by mall security as he exited the store. Turner was held by a security officer until the police came. The security officer discussed his own past with shoplifting after catching Turner in the act.

“[The security officer] started off stealing, and after he got caught he changed his life around,” Turner said. “It was good because he was talking about how people start stealing small things, and it just gets worse and worse. So he says that it was probably really good that I got caught.”

Although Turner was fined $1,000 for his act, he is glad he got caught. He agrees with the security officer that he might have tried shoplifting again had he not been caught. Turner said he completely regrets his decision.

“My mom had to pay a lot of money because I made a stupid decision,” Turner said. “Not only do you get in trouble, it causes trouble throughout your whole family. It’s totally not worth going through all that trouble.”

In addition to paying a fine for getting caught shoplifting, Turner’s mother had to pay money so he would not spend a night in jail. He noted that the situation has caused him much embarrassment, particularly because his grandparents found out about it.

“I feel like it makes people think of me differently too, which isn’t good,” Turner said. “I feel like after [I got caught] people thought of me as a thief. My mom said people were going to think of me as that, but I’m not a bad person. I just made a really bad mistake.”

Senior Dave Ferris* feels similarly, regretting his decision to shoplift when he was younger.  Ferris noted that he and his friend would shoplift mostly food items from stores like Dominick’s when they were in fifth grade. Ferris has an alternate view of shoplifting now that he is older.

“The way I see it is that it’s a drain on society,” Ferris said. “Especially compulsive shoplifters, people who will steal hundreds or maybe even thousands of dollars worth of merchandise. It’s basically saying ‘I don’t need to earn my keep; I don’t need to give back to society, and I don’t need to work.’  I think that’s completely inherently wrong, and that’s why [I no longer shoplift].”

Kidshealth.org explains that some people shoplift due to pressure from friends, to see what they can get away with, to challenge authority, to get a rush out of doing something risky, to get attention from parents or friends, or as a way of getting back at a store they don’t like or a company whose values they question.

Turner now understands the consequences of shoplifting and offers advice to others thinking about doing it.

“You get a free pair of sunglasses or something,” Turner said. “But if you get caught, the consequences are way worse. [You can be] a felon for the rest of your life. It’s not worth it.”

*Name has been altered to protect student’s identity

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