Why chasing shoplifters is an unsafe choice for retail employees

In the movies, when you see a shady character slip into a corner store, stick an item under his jacket, and make a beeline for the exit, you expect to see the shopkeeper chase him at full speed down the street.

But in the real world, a scene like this could cause an employee to fall, get hit by a car, or worse. The shoplifter could have a weapon or accomplices waiting.

At Kowalski's Markets, a local chain of grocery stores in the Minneapolis area, Security Manager Scott Nelson advises employees never to chase a shoplifter.

"I always start by telling employees that there's nothing in any of these stores that's worth anybody getting hurt or risking injury," he said. "I want to stress safety because obviously, our customers' safety and our employees' safety is our first concern."

Instead, Nelson advises employees just give exceptional customer service to everyone, even to those they suspect might be stealing.

"If you greet them with customer service, they know you're onto them and they typically drop the stuff and leave," he said.

I want to stress safety because obviously, our customers' safety and our employees' safety is our first concern.

~ Kowalski’s Security Manager Scott Nelson

At times when there aren't as many employees and customers around, Nelson advises staff not to overstock shelves with the pricier items that typically attract thieves and to put those items in visible places.

Even if these tactics don't work, with video cameras, other security measures and good relationships with local police, Nelson can usually catch thieves after the fact, so chasing a suspect is never necessary, he said.

"I appreciate that employees sometimes just want to help, but I always say, 'We care about you more than that thing he was stealing,'" he said. "My first concern for all our stores is that safety comes first."

For other safety tips related to retail stores, see these resources:

This is not intended to serve as legal advice for individual fact-specific legal cases or as a legal basis for your employment practices.

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