The woman ahead of me in Target was doing her best to distract and confuse the clerk.
As the clerk was counting the woman's change, I noticed a pair of shoes on the bottom rack of the shopping cart.
Without hesitation I said, "Excuse me, you forgot the shoes."
The reply was quick: "Oh, I don't want those."
Without looking up at me or the clerk she bent down, picked them up and plopped them down on the counter.
Yes, she could have simply forgotten the shoes. Who knows?
But not saying anything would be akin to taking $50 out of my pocket and throwing it in the trash can. Conservative estimates put shoplifting costs for each American household at $423 annually. Don't fool yourself into thinking it's business that is taking it in the shorts. It actually is you and I, the people who buy products off the shelves. Shoplifting is passed on as a cost of doing business.
Opening your mouth isn't necessarily a pleasant experience.
About 12 years ago in Walmart I noticed a 20's-something lady slip a chain from a display into her front pants pocket.
I mentioned to her that she shouldn't do that as she might forget to pay for it or someone might think she was shoplifting. She told me to mind my own business and tossed the chain out on to the floor as she walked off.
I'm not being noble. It's just that I understand how crushing it could be to be victimized by shoplifting, especially small store owners. Wyatt Hardware in Roseville one Christmas back in the early 1960s had about $200 worth of small appliance pilfered in two weeks. It doesn't sound like much but back then $150 a week was the operating profit and the money that was taken out of the store to pay for things like our food, clothing and mortgage.
Shoplifting from a small guy hurts them more than the big guy because they're not in a position to pass on the costs as much and stay competitive.
The bottom line, though, remains the same whether things are stolen from a national chain store or a mom and pop operation. The people who ultimately pay are the consumer.
I admit not being overzealous at times and not following through on suspicious activity.
Stores need all the help they can to detect shoplifters who tend to be extremely resourceful.
That point was driven home to me by a Roseville Police officer who was moonlighting during the holidays while off-duty as store security at a Payless store during the 1980s.
He noticed a woman in a long coat enter the store that he was familiar with as she had been booked on petty theft charges months before.
The officer said he followed her around the store keeping a discreet distance. He noticed her at one point slip about a half-dozen cosmetic products into her purse. He followed her as she moved toward the front door and as she was about to step off the sidewalk, identified himself and ordered the woman to stop. Instead she took off running allowing a six-inch portable black and white TV to crash to the pavement.
That qualified as the officer's most unbelievable shoplifting case. In his report, he said he didn't know how she had swiped the TV and mentioned how amazed he was at the fact her strides appeared perfectly normal.
Getting involved in the fight against shoplifting shouldn't be viewed as an option. How would you feel if people stood by, watched, and then went on their way as if nothing happened as someone jimmied the door to your car and took off with your personal belongings?
No one is asking anyone to put themselves in danger or even try to intervene with someone who may be shoplifting. All it takes is contacting a store employee.
Ceres does have a handful of shoplifting arrests each week but there are countless other acts of thievery that go unpunished because people look the other way.
The more risk there is in shoplifting the less likely it is to occur. And about the only way that risk will reach a level that may be unacceptable to many would-be thieves is for everyone else to be alert and to not let anyone get away with stealing what is essentially money out of their own pockets.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Courier or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.