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Home Opinion Out My Way: Shoplifting? Smile, you're on camera

Out My Way: Shoplifting? Smile, you’re on camera

Have you ever stood outside a Walmart store and marveled at the number of surveillance cameras that are mounted to the top of the building? There are a lot of them — counted in dozens — and they’re pointed in such a way as to capture every single angle of the parking lot and entrances to the store.

If there are that many cameras outside the store, imagine how many there are inside, where they’re somewhat hidden inside the black orbs that hang from the ceiling throughout the retail space. 

As one of the world’s most popular targets for petty thieves, Walmart goes to extraordinary lengths to stop them . . . and they’re pretty successful at it.

Yet, on an almost daily basis, people try to enter a Walmart store and walk out with merchandise they haven’t paid for. 

Many times, those shoplifters earn a trip to the county lockup and a date with a judge. But that doesn’t stop some of them from attempting to make a career of it. They show up at a Walmart even after being busted — sometimes repeatedly — at other Walmarts and earn themselves a trip out of the store in handcuffs.

I’m no fool, despite what you may have heard, and so I’m well aware that there are those who manage to escape from Walmart with their unearned merchandise without being caught. While I’m not privy to the stats, it probably stands to reason that there are more thieves who aren’t caught than there are who are. But, at the very least, there’s a better than average chance that you’re going to wind up in the clink if you attempt to escape a Walmart store without paying for your buggy-load. Walmart has made loss prevention a sort of art form — and has to, considering how frequently its stores are targeted by criminals.

Sometimes thieves target merchandise that at least makes their effort seem explanatory — electronics, tools, etc. But how often are warrants written for stolen items so insignificant that you don’t know whether to laugh or groan at the thief’s plight? I mean, really? You went to jail over lip balm?

Besides those who prey on children, there’s no element of society worse than thieves — vultures who swipe things that don’t belong to them because they’re too lazy to work for what they have like the rest of us. In another era, thieves were summarily shot, or hanged, for their deeds. In this civilized era, we’ve determined that’s too inhumane — too harsh a punishment. Perhaps it is. After all, the trend continues. It’s only been a few years since the Tennessee General Assembly raised the threshold for felony theft from $500 to $1,000. So if you steal something valued at $900, it’s now a misdemeanor rather than a felony.

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In Oneida, though, the trend is being reversed. With a nod of approval from 8th Judicial District Attorney General Jared Effler, Oneida Police Department has followed Knoxville PD’s lead: if you’ve previously been trespassed by Walmart — the corporation bans convicted shoplifters from entering any of its stores — and you enter the Oneida Walmart to steal merchandise, you’re charged with burglary rather than theft . . . which means that lip balm or any other assortment of stolen merchandise valued at less than $1,000 will still net you a felony charge — which carries more severe and long-lasting consequences than misdemeanor theft.

I’m not sure how desperate for a new laptop or curling iron I would have to be to decide to roll the dice and risk a felony tag — forfeiting my right to vote or own a gun — rather than just paying for it.

Because you can rest assured: from the time you get out of your vehicle at Walmart until the time that you return to it, you are on camera. Chances are, somebody’s watching those cameras. Chances are, you’re going to get caught. And if local authorities can’t tell who you are by looking at the camera footage, it’s been proven over and over that all they need to do is post your picture from those cameras on social media, and someone will be more than happy to rat you out — sometimes in a matter of minutes. 

And good on them for doing so. After all, there’s nothing worse than a thief. I pay for my lip balm. You should, too. But if you choose not to, smile for the camera. It won’t lessen the trouble you’re probably going to be in, but at least you’ll look your best if you wind up on Facebook.

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Ben Garrett
Ben Garrett is Independent Herald editor. Contact him at bgarrett@ihoneida.com. Follow him on Twitter, @benwgarrett.
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