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Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Pursuit of a Shoplifter

A recent news story poses an interesting question- at what point does the safety of the public outweigh the necessity to apprehend a shoplifter. Gracie Johnson drowned to death yesterday. She and two others allegedly stole some merchandise from Burlington Coat Factory. One person was apprehended inside the store.  Ms. Johnson and her daughter were pursued by Burlington Coat Factory loss prevention officers as they left the store. This pursuit went through a large parking lot, down an embankment and into McAlpine Creek. This creek is approximately 1/4 mile from the store. 

Police Departments have very detailed policies regarding pursuits. The decision whether to initiate a pursuit is balanced against the danger to the public. Innocent people are killed every year in police pursuits. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reported that 314 innocent bystanders were killed one year in police pursuits. 

Loss prevention officers are not police officers. They are employed by the store. 

Yet, Burlington Coat Factory employees chased two people into a creek yesterday. One person is dead. The other has yet to be found. The third person was caught in the store. Many people I have spoken to about this case don't feel sorry for Gracie Johnson. She shouldn't have been shoplifting. I can't help but ask if they would feel differently if an innocent bystander in the parking lot had been killed. Would they feel the same about the actions of the Burlington Coat Factory staff?

Do you agree with the actions of Burlington Coat Factory?  Would your opinion change if an innocent bystander was hurt?


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent post as brings this unfortunate situation into the
broader context of the issue of pursuit vs public safety and consequences of action versus achievement of purpose.

The "authority" might be the law, store employee, or individual the "reason" and "consequences" major or minor. Unintended consequences do matter particularly when they may over reach.

Is the pursuit more justified if the victim had stolen an infant
from the store? less justified if it was a stolen pack of gum? not justifed outside of the store or parking lot? justified because the calling of police would take too long?

Are we justified in speeding to the emergency room to save a loved ones life rather than calling an abulance driver? are there circumstances when an ordinary person can act "above the law"?

August 6, 2011 at 3:56 PM  
Blogger Carilyn Ibsen said...

Thank you for your thoughts on the issue. An update to the story- 16 year old Rianna Johonson, Gracie Johnson's daughter, was recovered the following day. Her body was found about 1/2 mile away from where she entered the creek.

August 7, 2011 at 10:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In this scenario the safety of the public was not called into question, only the safety of the perpretrators and the store security employee who pursued them, who thankfully survived. Simply put, if Gracie and daughter hadn't pulled the theft or hadn't tried to escape the legal consequences of their own actions they would not have died in THIS incident (but likely would have died in a subsequent incident that their own actions precipitated).

December 18, 2011 at 6:28 PM  

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