Rachel Shteir: "The Steal"

Transcript for: 
Rachel Shteir: "The Steal"

MS. DIANE REHM

11:06:55
Thanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. Shoplifting has reached almost epidemic proportions. Over a million shoplifting offences are committed each year in the U.S. alone. But some of its perpetrators argue it's not a crime, it's a disease. To explain the history and contradictions of shoplifting here in the studio Rachel Shteir, she's an associate professor at The Theatre School at DePaul University. She's author of a new book, it's titled "The Steal."

MS. DIANE REHM

11:07:38
Do join us 800-433-8850, send us your email to drshow@wamu.org, join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to you, it's good to have you here.

MS. RACHEL SHTEIR

11:08:00
Thank you very much for having me.

REHM

11:08:02
You subtitled this book "A Cultural History of Shoplifting." Has the culture of shoplifting changed over the years?

SHTEIR

11:08:15
Yes, definitely. That was one of the things that drew me to the topic, these different forms that shoplifting takes through the ages from when we first see it in Shakespeare's day, the beginning of modern consumption, the beginning of luxury products in stores in London, the beginning of people wanting those products and not having enough money to buy them, but seeing other people on the street wearing them and seeing people in their houses having them. That is the beginning of shoplifting in London.

SHTEIR

11:08:57
Then we go to the 19th century kleptomania. It becomes a disease with the advent of Freud and his disciples in the beginning of modern psychology and the idea of the unconscious and these things propelling us over which we have no control, these urges driving us. And then jumping forward to the 1960s America, we also have the idea of Abbie Hoffman, "Steal This Book," and shoplifting is being part of the revolution against the man. The idea of it being okay to steal from a store, you're not hurting another individual, rather you're taking something back for the people, is an extremely powerful idea that has a lot of truck today.

SHTEIR

11:09:54
And then today, what are our ideas about shoplifting? We see shoplifting as an addiction. Many people believe that it's an addiction. We also see a big topic among loss prevention personnel, stores and law enforcement people is the rise of professional shoplifting gangs. These are gangs of two, three, more people who sweep through the store, grab the stuff and sell it on eBay. Then it's cost retail, that particular dimension of shoplifting, these professionals cost retailers quite a bit of money. Those gangs are responsible for the biggest volume in dollars lost because they steal much more and so on. Anyway, you see just kind of from the survey...

REHM

11:10:46
Wow.

SHTEIR

11:10:49
...yeah, why, yeah.

REHM

11:10:49
It really, really has history with legs and here's some -- a message already posted on Facebook, "Do I understand that this is being treated as a psychological problem in this economy? Families and individuals are under tremendous pressure."

SHTEIR

11:11:15
Yes. The writer makes a good point, gets kind of to the heart of one of the debates. Is this a psychological issue or is it driven by economics? I guess today, if you're going to talk about today, I would say both. It's driven by both. Shoplifting has risen in the recession, there's no doubt about that, however, having said that, the things that people tend to shoplift are not loaves of bread a la Jean Valjean.

SHTEIR

11:11:53
The things people shoplift are either, generally speaking, because, of course, people shoplift everything, so everything we buy people shoplift, but some of the most commonly shoplifted items are items that you would find in your local Rite Aid or CVS, like Rogaine, Oil of Olay, Red Bull energy drinks. Even when we go to the grocery store and we talk about what are the most commonly shoplifted items at the grocery store? We're really talking about steak, we're not talking about ground chuck.

SHTEIR

11:12:33
So I maintain yes, I think there is a psychological dimension and there is an economic dimension. I think part of the thing about the book that was interesting to me is why do we always have to separate the psychological from the economic when talking about this issue?

REHM

11:12:51
You know, I wondered too about the celebrity aspect of shoplifting and how that has focused on what could be the psychological aspect, since we assume celebrities have the money to buy whatever they want to buy. If so, why are they shoplifting?

SHTEIR

11:13:17
Yeah, I mean, I think there are many different reasons why a celebrity might shoplift. I am not a medical doctor, of course, I am a writer, so I am speculating here based on my research, but what I would say is celebrities shoplift for many of the reasons that other people shoplift because they feel somehow prohibited from something. I would say that generally speaking, shoplifting, it's not a one-on-one relationship.

SHTEIR

11:13:49
What I mean by that is someone shoplifts because they feel somehow that something has been denied or they feel somehow like they have been wronged. It might have nothing to do with anything in the store at all. Do you understand what I'm saying? I'm not justifying that, I'm simply saying from talking to a lot of people, this is the -- you know, one of the things that I have come to understand about it.

REHM

11:14:18
Now, listen to this message posted on Facebook by Linda. She says, "I work at a shoe store while attending school full-time. It's one thing to see someone swipe a pair of work shoes, but quite another when they walk out with high fashion heels. I find it disgusting that someone will walk out with $500 worth of goods while those of us working are making $10 an hour."

SHTEIR

11:14:54
Yeah, I mean, I think this speaks to exactly what I was describing a minute ago whereby people are drawn to those high-end, luxury items. The work boots, they don't -- you know, who cares about the work boots. They want the designer branded heels.

REHM

11:15:13
And they're not taking into account who might be suffering.

SHTEIR

11:15:19
No.

REHM

11:15:19
Who is suffering, all of us?

SHTEIR

11:15:22
Well, yes. There's a statistic about that that I quote in the book, which is that shoplifting costs American families at least $400 a year. It's like a crime tax. That's a pretty widely accepted statistic. I can tell you, however, from talking with a lot of shoplifters, because shoplifting is done from a store, I think often, that statistic does not make a big impact. It's abstract.

REHM

11:15:54
It's a store, it's not you.

SHTEIR

11:15:56
Yes.

REHM

11:15:57
It's not me.

SHTEIR

11:15:58
Yes.

REHM

11:15:59
It's something that they want or something they feel they must have.

SHTEIR

11:16:06
Yes.

REHM

11:16:06
And they're not thinking about the consequences to any one other person, but since it's been with us for such a long time, you wonder about how it has figured its way into novels and you mention Jean Valjean and "Les Miserables" and you wonder to what extent it was earlier something that people did because they needed it badly, but now it's become really quite a tradition...

SHTEIR

11:16:49
Yes.

REHM

11:16:49
...in this country.

SHTEIR

11:16:51
Yes. I mean, though even when you go back to some of these novels from the 18th century, like "Moll Flanders," reading "Moll Flanders," she shoplifts and she shoplifted at a time in England when shoplifting was a hanging crime. You could get hanged for anything more than five shillings or you might be transported to Botany Bay, was another possibility.

SHTEIR

11:17:21
But in "Moll Flanders," and in many of these early fictional treatments of shoplifters, shoplifters are not really -- there's a kind of ambiguous treatment of them. They're kind of rogues, you know, in a kind of attractive way. They're really not demonized as criminals. I mean...

REHM

11:17:45
Except that you talk about one individual who was caught shoplifting three times, went to jail for the third time and what did that mean?

SHTEIR

11:17:59
You mean today?

REHM

11:18:00
Yeah.

SHTEIR

11:18:01
Today you mean under the three strikes...

REHM

11:18:03
Right...

SHTEIR

11:18:03
...in California. Yes. Well, that's right, absolutely. I mean, that's something that is going on, where in states that have three strikes, if one of the strikes can be a minor theft offense and you can get or you could get put away for 25.

REHM

11:18:26
For shoplifting?

SHTEIR

11:18:27
If one of the strikes was shoplifting, yes, yes.

REHM

11:18:31
And the book we're talking about is titled "The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting" by Rachel Shteir. Short break, we'll be right back.

REHM

11:20:04
Welcome back. If you've just joined us, we're talking about something I don't think we've ever talked about on this show before, shoplifting. We're talking with Rachel Shteir. She's written a new book called "The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting." She's the author of the award-winning "Striptease: The Untold Story of the Girlie Show" and "Gypsy: The Art of the Tease." You can join us, 800-433-8850, send your email to drshow@wamu.org and join us on Facebook and send us your tweets.

REHM

11:20:56
Here's an email from Margaret in Ann Arbor who says, "Merchandise is arranged to be enticing whether people have money or not. Most extreme are retailers who, though unmerciful to shoplifters, advertising using a theft motif, e.g. the big steal or criminally good deals and in the past, steal it." What do you think of that?

SHTEIR

11:21:33
I mean, she's absolutely right to say that. First of all, yes, of course, retailers want you in their store to buy things. Of course, they do not want you to steal things, but they are -- there is a science to enticing you. And they also, of course, use the word a steal to advertise.

REHM

11:21:55
How much impact does shoplifting have on sales margins?

SHTEIR

11:22:02
That varies from year to year. I mean, I can talk about it really in terms of the losses to stores in billions of dollars. So in 2010, the most recent statistic is that stores in America lost $12 billion.

REHM

11:22:28
Twelve billion through shoplifting.

SHTEIR

11:22:32
Yes.

REHM

11:22:32
But you also write that oddly enough, bad economic times don't seem to put a spike on shoplifting.

SHTEIR

11:22:43
They sometimes do, but not enough is known about the relationship between the overall economy...

REHM

11:22:50
Oh, I see.

SHTEIR

11:22:51
...and why people are shoplifting. That's what I would say about that.

REHM

11:22:56
Having written this book, do you think that there is any merit to the notion that shoplifting is a psychological disorder?

SHTEIR

11:23:09
Absolutely.

REHM

11:23:10
For how many of those or what percentage of those who shoplift?

SHTEIR

11:23:16
The numbers that I have read about that say that up to, I believe, 10 percent of all shoplifters are kleptomaniacs. And I believe the statistics for how much kleptomaniacs cost stores that I have read are $500 million a year.

REHM

11:23:40
So kleptomania, which really drives an individual to shoplift despite the risk of being caught, is something that is ongoing and pervasive.

SHTEIR

11:24:01
Yes. I would say so, yes. It's -- its shape has changed since the 19th century. In the 19th century, the Freudians believed that it arose out of female sexual repression. We no longer believe that today. Mostly now it's considered an impulse control disorder and there's a variety of treatments that have been tested for it.

REHM

11:24:29
And they probably use drugs along the way to help control...

SHTEIR

11:24:35
Yes.

REHM

11:24:36
...those feelings.

SHTEIR

11:24:36
Yes.

REHM

11:24:37
How much do retailers have to set aside, money for guards, for people to infiltrate their stores so they can watch -- plainclothes people watching customers?

SHTEIR

11:24:59
Yes. You're asking me how much do stores spend on...

REHM

11:25:02
Have to -- sure.

SHTEIR

11:25:02
...security per year.

REHM

11:25:04
Yeah.

SHTEIR

11:25:05
It's in the billions, I can tell you that much, yes.

REHM

11:25:08
Again, in the billions.

SHTEIR

11:25:10
It's a growth industry.

REHM

11:25:13
So if the inability to pay, a la these celebrities, is not the fundamental motive for shoplifting, is it simply, I want that and I don't want to pay for it?

SHTEIR

11:25:36
I think that's a good deal of it. I think it can be any number -- you know, we could go down -- it can be entitlement. It can be, I don't want to pay for it. It can be an anxiety impulse control disorder. It can be a sense of, I have been wronged and now I am going to do a wrong. You know, there's a number of different things that can make someone shoplift.

REHM

11:26:03
And what about children? Is it they who begin early and then continue or -- you have on the cover a beautifully dressed woman in a hat and gloves and earrings. Doesn't look like a kid who needs anything to me.

SHTEIR

11:26:26
Yes. Actually, so I think one of the things that's interesting about shoplifting is that we have an idea that it's primarily done by women and children. That is not the case according to the most recent research. The most recent research actually shows that middle-aged men are the primary shoplifters. Children, of course, do shoplift.

SHTEIR

11:26:55
Shop -- any parent, you know, probably many parents can tell you stories of that, but many researchers will tell you that children shoplifting does not necessarily mean anything, particularly if they're in the early stages. It can just be a developmental thing of the kid trying to figure out, you know, who am I and what is this? It's not -- it doesn't mean they're going to grow up to be a burglar or jewel thief.

REHM

11:27:22
Unless it's habitual.

SHTEIR

11:27:24
Yes, unless it's habitual.

REHM

11:27:26
'Cause have you ever -- did you ever experience the desire to shoplift as a child?

SHTEIR

11:27:34
Of course.

REHM

11:27:34
So did I in the dime store.

SHTEIR

11:27:37
The dime store, exactly. The dime stores are gone now.

REHM

11:27:41
The dime stores are gone, but my conscience and the feeling always that my mother knew exactly everything I was doing, whether she was present or not, prevented me from taking that little whatever it was. What stopped you?

SHTEIR

11:28:04
Well, I was -- I did shoplift as a child.

REHM

11:28:09
Oh, you did.

SHTEIR

11:28:09
Yes, yes. My mother didn't always prevent me from doing it. Yes. I shoplifted some gum from a dime store.

REHM

11:28:16
And did your mother know that you shoplifted?

SHTEIR

11:28:20
I don't think -- I don't think my -- I think my mother will know now that we're on the radio (laugh).

REHM

11:28:24
She will know now, dear mom. Okay. We've got lots of callers. I want to open the phones here. First to Cincinnati, Ohio, Bernard's on the line. Good morning to you.

BERNARD

11:28:39
Good morning. I wanted to ask the question, why is it that shoplifting has a lesser punishment than somebody who walks into the bank and also demanding money? What are the (unintelligible) on that, 'cause I think they are both stealing?

SHTEIR

11:28:54
Yes. The question is about why does shoplifting have a lesser punishment than robbing a bank? Yeah, the -- I mean, it's an excellent question. The punishment for shoplifting varies from state to state and it has to do with what is the dollar amount you've shoplifted and how many times you've done it previously and whether you're in a gang or not and whether you have shoplifting paraphernalia or not. I'm not really answering your question 'cause I think you're making a good observation. It often is punished very little.

REHM

11:29:29
What about stealing something from someone's home that you go to visit?

SHTEIR

11:29:36
A -- you mean as a...

REHM

11:29:37
Do you regard that as a kind of shoplifting?

SHTEIR

11:29:42
You mean as a burglary or let's say you're over at their house for dinner and you...

REHM

11:29:45
You're there to their house for dinner.

SHTEIR

11:29:48
Yeah, you slip something in your...

REHM

11:29:48
Yeah, you're a guest.

SHTEIR

11:29:49
I don't talk about that at all in the book. I mean, I really limit the book to stores, but that is certainly, it's in the same spectrum, I would say, if you're at...

REHM

11:30:00
The spectrum of behavior.

SHTEIR

11:30:01
Yes, yes, yes. If you're at someone's house, your friend's house, and you slip their salt shaker in your pocket, for example.

REHM

11:30:09
It sounds as though you're saying that many people who are shoplifters don't see themselves as doing anything wrong.

SHTEIR

11:30:22
Yes. I would say that's -- I think that's often the case.

REHM

11:30:26
They just regard it as a kind of entitlement.

SHTEIR

11:30:31
I think -- entitlement. I think they -- yeah, they -- I would -- I would feel more comfortable saying they feel that somewhere they have been wronged and they are taking to make the adjustment to compensate. I guess I would say it's a kind of compensatory behavior.

REHM

11:30:53
All right. Let's go to Southern, Ill. Good morning, Jay, you're on the air.

JAY

11:31:00
Hey, I used to shoplift when I was young and got caught when I was 16 and was basically told, if you do it again, you're going to turn 17 in three days and you'll be an adult. And that scared me bad enough to stop me, but my observation is, you keep talking about why do people steal steak instead of hamburger trying to feed a family. Well, a pound of meat goes the same distance no matter what kind of pound it is. And you're going to get in the same amount of trouble if you're stealing steak or beef.

JAY

11:31:31
I mean, everywhere you're talking about degrees of it. A punishment -- the punishment's a dollar amount, so you're not going to walk into Walmart and steal $6,000 worth of stuff. And likewise, the Rogaine. If you have a child with you and you're shopping for your baby powder and your shampoo and your soap for the family, well, it's a lot easier to pay for those and they're a lot less suspicious of looking for a Rogaine in your pocket if you do it that way. That could explain why people steal high-end. Do they factor that into their observations or surveys or whatever at all?

SHTEIR

11:32:12
I'm not sure I understand the question. You're ask...

JAY

11:32:16
It's more of an observation, I'm sorry.

SHTEIR

11:32:18
Yeah, yeah.

JAY

11:32:19
I'm just saying...

SHTEIR

11:32:19
You're saying...

JAY

11:32:20
...if you're going to steal, why steal, you know, the cheap hamburger value pound when a pound of steak is the same size, basically. And if it's flat, it's going to be easier to hide in your pants.

REHM

11:32:33
Yeah, the same danger...

SHTEIR

11:32:35
I see, more...

REHM

11:32:36
...involved.

SHTEIR

11:32:37
...more value.

REHM

11:32:38
Exactly.

SHTEIR

11:32:39
You're getting -- I mean, I would say the phrase something -- getting something for nothing comes to my mind from this question. Yes, you're stealing something that's a bigger value for the risk. Sure, I agree with that, yeah.

REHM

11:32:51
Rachel Shteir and her new book is titled "The Steal," and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To Angela in Broward County, Fla. Good morning, you're on the air.

ANGELA

11:33:07
Good morning. How are you guys?

REHM

11:33:08
Fine, thanks.

ANGELA

11:33:10
Well, this is -- this is not funny, but I'm just laughing to hear all the stories. And if I know that somebody was going to write a book, I would sit down with her a long time ago. I've been in the business -- retail business now on the huge corporations for the last five, seven years and I keep saying that this is created by corporations themselves.

SHTEIR

11:33:32
Reparations, yeah.

ANGELA

11:33:34
It's an inside job, I can say that. They have the thing of hiring people for part-timers for seasonal and they don't care much to go backgrounds. So when you have people that are really into the type of things, the high-end designers, jewelry, perfumes, high shoes, you know, clothing, whatever, you know, they have the groups -- they have groups that specialize on robbing the stores and disturbing the (word?) in getting everything out of there.

ANGELA

11:34:12
But putting someone of them inside of the store, that person is getting paid, not only by the store, but also by the people who are stealing. Every time that someone come and they steal something from the store, that person is looking other way around. (unintelligible)...

REHM

11:34:25
Angela, Angela, let me ask you, have you had personal experience with this?

ANGELA

11:34:34
Oh, yes. We have a lot of personal experience in this, you know. And I keep saying it and every time that I stop someone, you know, who is stealing, the first thing is they don't ask -- the corporate say so, you cannot tell them, give me the thing that you have it in your bag. You know, you have to say, customer service, customer service.

SHTEIR

11:34:54
Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

ANGELA

11:34:55
You know, what else can I help you, you know. Maybe you can get a bag that goes well with the pair of shoes that you might like, you know. Maybe that you have inside of your bag or you're wearing already. You know, things like this. But if that person wants to say, oh, that associate's harassing me, harassing me is a big word the corporations doesn't want to hear it.

SHTEIR

11:35:17
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, I mean, you bring up an excellent point, which I talk about in the second half of the book, which is, what is stores response been to shoplifting? And, you know, you're certainly right to say that stores have this difficulty. They want to provide customer service to their customers, obviously, but on the other hand, they want to prevent people from shoplifting from them. And it's sometimes an uneasy balance.

SHTEIR

11:35:46
And, you know, I agree with you. I don't know what the solution is. What I do know is that I have seen in my research since the '70s, there has been more and more and more security and I don't think it's really having a pronounced effect, a profound effect, in stopping...

REHM

11:36:05
You know, that's interesting because, of course, more and more stores, whether they're low-end, high-end, put these tags on pieces of clothing or, you know, you try on a pair of shoes and I guess if the sales person turns away, you might walk out with that pair of shoes. But on the other hand, getting out of the store with all these mirrors around, with all these both plainclothes security and clothed security, I mean, you're saying it's not working.

SHTEIR

11:36:46
It's sometimes working. It's only as good as the people who are working it, for one thing. In terms of the cameras, for example, there have been studies shown that sometimes CCTV camera, which is what's in the stores, actually increases crime.

REHM

11:37:05
How so?

SHTEIR

11:37:05
Well, there are two things. One is that it gets more reported 'cause, of course, shoplifting is hugely underreported, so CCTV, just seeing what's going on inside the store, and then sometimes, it's true that CCTV might deter somebody in that particular store, but they'll just go to the next store. I mean, if they're determined to shoplift. So it can have a moving along effect.

REHM

11:37:29
Rachel Shteir and her new book is titled "The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting." We'll take a short break here. When we come back, more of your calls and comments.

REHM

11:40:03
Welcome back. Rachel Shteir is with me. She has a new book out, a cultural history of shoplifting and it's titled basically, "The Steal." If you'd like to join us, 800-433-8850. Here's an email from Antonia, "Is there any correlation between compulsive gamblers and shoplifters?"

SHTEIR

11:40:32
Definitely. Yes, absolutely. Those are both considered to be, by some medical researchers, behavioral addictions. In other words, substance addictions are alcohol and drug addiction, but gambling and shoplifting are considered to be addictions that create or result in behavior.

REHM

11:40:54
So where did you come down? Did you come down on the side of prosecuting shoplifters or treating shoplifters?

SHTEIR

11:41:07
Oh, well, I think that people who are compulsive shoplifters need help. I don't think that they should necessarily be thrown in with the general population in prisons. Sometimes they really -- there were many people I spoke to who really are compelled to shoplift.

REHM

11:41:30
But you're not talking about the gangs of people...

SHTEIR

11:41:32
No.

REHM

11:41:33
...who move in.

SHTEIR

11:41:35
No, although I will tell you something about the gangs of people. I interviewed a number of the individuals in those gangs and what I can say is that when they talked about shoplifting and what it was like, what it felt like, it was not all that different from the way people who are compulsive shoplifters talked about it. In other words, yes, those gangs are shoplifting for profit, they're making money, they're selling their stuff on eBay.

REHM

11:42:01
But they're feeling the rush.

SHTEIR

11:42:01
But they feel the rush in the store. They said to me things like, it's better than heroin. You know, it's -- the thrill is more exciting than drugs. They talked about their techniques, you know, which people who were (word?)...

REHM

11:42:19
Such as?

SHTEIR

11:42:19
Oh, okay. Such as, you know, I mean, some of them use those booster bags and booster coats, which are bags and coats lined with foil or other materials that disarm the sensor tags from going off. You know, others put shields on the cameras or the mirrors, you know, they -- so they block them. I mean, there's many, many different ways of doing it.

REHM

11:42:51
Here's a tweet from a listener who says, "Walmart makes billions in profits every year. I don't shoplift, but I can see how someone can justify the act." Big corporations, no sympathy from the individual watching someone else shoplift?

SHTEIR

11:43:16
Yes. I mean, I write about that in the book, both in the Abbie Hoffman chapter and then in the chapter on what I call the ethical shoplifters, the people who are doing what the tweeter describes. I think there definitely is a feeling that the little guy is not getting it -- not getting enough, that they're being denied, that they're being prohibited and this is the little guy's way to somehow even the stakes.

REHM

11:43:45
By stealing?

SHTEIR

11:43:45
By stealing, you know. I'm not justifying it, I'm just describing, yep.

REHM

11:43:51
I understand. So here's Linda in Medina, Ohio. Good morning, Linda.

LINDA

11:44:00
Hi, Diane, thanks for taking my call.

REHM

11:44:02
Sure.

LINDA

11:44:03
I listen to you both hours every single day. I just love it.

REHM

11:44:06
Thank you.

LINDA

11:44:07
Oh, but I was going to tell you (laugh), this is so silly. When I was like 12 or 13, my girlfriends and I -- I was raised in Columbus, Ohio and I went to Catholic schools all my life and my girlfriends -- I would run -- we'd take our bikes and we'd go up to the Five and Dime and I would take a little bit of money, I had a little allowance, and I would go there to get some candy or something.

LINDA

11:44:29
And then I would see them stealing lip gloss or fingernail polish or something and I would just put my stuff on the counter and run out of the store 'cause I was so afraid of getting caught and I didn't steal anything, but I'd run out of the store so they started making fun of me and they started calling me goody two shoes (laugh).

LINDA

11:44:46
But I couldn't -- I just couldn't risk it. My mother would know, the nuns would know...

REHM

11:44:53
Of course.

LINDA

11:44:54
...the priest (unintelligible).

REHM

11:44:56
Of course they would know.

LINDA

11:44:57
I'd have to go to confession.

REHM

11:44:58
Yeah, right.

LINDA

11:44:58
I would never do that. I saved all my big sins for confession later in life, but it was really, really funny 'cause they really did make fun of me. They were stealing like little nail polish and little lip gloss...

REHM

11:45:08
Yeah. I think that's a great story, Linda, and I'm sure a lot of our listeners feel as you do, that somebody was looking over their shoulder. Let's go to Ann in Silver Spring, Md. Good morning, you're on the air.

ANN

11:45:29
Hi, thanks for taking my call.

REHM

11:45:32
Sure.

ANN

11:45:35
I wanted to say when you mentioned the tags for security, I have bought so many things that when I got home, I discovered they had left the tags on them (unintelligible)...

REHM

11:45:45
Oh, right.

ANN

11:45:45
...work anyway. But what I was calling to say is that I'm 50 years old and I never did the little shoplifting thing when my friends did when I was a kid, but since I have gone from being a home-owning, well-paid professional to the last four years looking for a job and at this point, I'm on food stamps, still looking for a job, I have been shoplifting high-end face cream, samples, though. I don't take the -- I don't actually take the things in the boxes, I only take the samples, but these are things I wouldn't pay $50 for when I had the money because it's -- why would I pay $50 for eye cream?

ANN

11:46:28
But just in, you know, the last year or so, I will be going to actually by a mascara and I'll see these fancy French whatevers and I will slip the sample into my pocket and it is, as you said, this feeling of, you know, I've done everything I was supposed to do. I went to graduate school and, you know, at least my face should look good, even if I haven't been able to buy an item of clothing in two years.

ANN

11:47:04
And it's weird because I don't condone shoplifting and, you know, I knew people who shoplifted when I was growing up and I was appalled by it, but for some reason, I keep thinking, well, the samples, you know, they get it free anyway...

REHM

11:47:20
Right, right.

ANN

11:47:21
...what (word?). But at the same time, it's like, you know, come on now. You're walking into a store and risking this and I've been doing it, you know...

REHM

11:47:34
But Ann, you know, I'm not sure, considering, as you've already said, that these things, I presume, are on the counter, they are samples, perhaps they're inviting you to take those samples?

ANN

11:47:48
Well, they are, but at the same time, they have to replace -- I mean, you know, they only get -- I've worked in retail...

REHM

11:47:55
Yeah, yeah.

ANN

11:47:56
...when I was growing up and they certainly only get a certain number of samples. I mean, these are full-size things, I'm not talking about the little package samples that they give you.

REHM

11:48:08
Yeah. Well, maybe that's a little different. I'm just not sure about that. It sort of reminds Marsha, who has emailed us, "What about the people who graze in the produce section of the grocery store?"

SHTEIR

11:48:31
Mm-hmm.

REHM

11:48:32
You -- you know, you see people sort of picking up a bunch, not one grape, but a bunch of grapes and eating those before he or she gets out of the store. Isn't that the same thing?

SHTEIR

11:48:47
I mean, I have heard stories of stores detaining people for grazing, that is called grazing.

REHM

11:48:58
Where, in New York?

SHTEIR

11:48:59
I'm trying to think.

REHM

11:49:03
'Cause I've never, ever seen that happen in here in the Washington area.

SHTEIR

11:49:05
You've never seen that. I'm trying to think, where have I read about -- I've definitely read about incidences of it in news clippings and so -- and while I was doing my research. On the other hand, it's a sort of gray area, it strikes me as a gray area, right? I mean, it's...

REHM

11:49:23
Well, one can argue if you want to see how good the grapes are, you taste a grape.

SHTEIR

11:49:30
Yes.

REHM

11:49:30
You don't take a bunch of grapes, which is why many stores have now come to wrap those grapes in packages. Let's go to the other side of this discussion and to Chris who's in Quincy, Mass. Good morning to you. Hey, Chris, are you there? Well, Chris must have changed his mind because he works in security...

SHTEIR

11:50:00
Oh. Yeah.

REHM

11:50:01
...at a clothing story concerned with the image of the store so they don't stop shoplifters...

SHTEIR

11:50:10
Yeah, absolutely.

REHM

11:50:13
...and take it as a tax write-off.

SHTEIR

11:50:14
Mm-hmm.

REHM

11:50:16
So you and I are paying for that.

SHTEIR

11:50:16
Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

REHM

11:50:18
I wonder how many store there are like that?

SHTEIR

11:50:22
I don't know about that, but there are certainly stores that discourage their customer service or sales people from detaining shoplifters.

REHM

11:50:34
Well, what are they there for?

SHTEIR

11:50:37
Well, they're there to help the customers, right? I mean, I think the earlier caller, who talked about the possible lawsuits that might ensue. If somebody gets hurt, if a shoplifter gets hurt in the store, that can then deflect -- boomerang back to the store.

REHM

11:50:57
Boy. Let's go to Syracuse, N.Y. Good morning, Debbie.

DEBBIE

11:50:59
Yes, hi. Good morning. Great show.

REHM

11:51:02
Thanks.

DEBBIE

11:51:04
Back years ago when I was in college, I worked as a store detective for a local low-end department store and the standards we had for being allowed to stop a shoplifter were very high.

SHTEIR

11:51:15
Mm-hmm.

DEBBIE

11:51:16
We had to actually see the person physically conceal the merchandise. If they just had it in their hand, walked around a corner and then didn't have it, we couldn't stop them.

SHTEIR

11:51:25
Mm-hmm.

DEBBIE

11:51:26
We had to physically see them, you know, conceal it and then attempt to leave the store.

SHTEIR

11:51:29
Right, mm-hmm.

DEBBIE

11:51:30
And so we -- actually, we caught more kids. We caught more teenagers 'cause their body language gave them away (laugh). But the professionals, they knew how to -- you know, there's a look that a shoplifter gets.

SHTEIR

11:51:44
Right.

DEBBIE

11:51:45
They get a look and that's who we would follow.

SHTEIR

11:51:45
What was that look?

DEBBIE

11:51:46
Nervousness, looking around, you know, standing in a, you know, a rack of CDs and they kinda look around real suspiciously.

SHTEIR

11:51:58
Mm-hmm.

DEBBIE

11:51:59
And then that's when you know they're getting ready to shove it down their pants or jacket.

SHTEIR

11:52:02
Their pants, mm-hmm, mm-hmm, the shifty eyes, you're saying.

DEBBIE

11:52:04
It's the eyes...

SHTEIR

11:52:05
The eyes.

DEBBIE

11:52:05
... (unintelligible) body language.

SHTEIR

11:52:06
The body language.

DEBBIE

11:52:07
And I see that look today when I'm in stores and I say, oh, oh, that person's getting ready to go (unintelligible).

REHM

11:52:13
Interesting, interesting. How long did you do that kind of work, Debbie?

DEBBIE

11:52:19
I did that for a couple of years. And as a matter of fact, when I left, I -- my last bust was an 80-year-old man who stole a bottle of aspirin.

SHTEIR

11:52:30
Mm-hmm.

DEBBIE

11:52:30
And he started crying when I detained him.

SHTEIR

11:52:33
Oh, my God.

REHM

11:52:33
Wow.

DEBBIE

11:52:33
And I said I can do this -- I can't do this anymore.

REHM

11:52:37
Oh, geez.

REHM

11:52:38
Wow.

DEBBIE

11:52:39
And now I'm an artist (laugh).

REHM

11:52:40
Thanks for sharing with us, Debbie. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Ann Arbor, Mich. Hi, Stephanie.

STEPHANIE

11:52:50
Hi. I know a lot of grocery stores and other department stores are doing the self-checkouts now. I was just wondering if there was any effect on the maybe increase or decrease theft through the self-checkouts?

SHTEIR

11:53:05
That is an excellent question and I haven't read any statistics on that, but I anecdotally, I hear that there is an increase and one reason that I've heard is that customers get very frustrated at the self-checkout, you know, when something doesn't scan or something like that and then they just put it in their bag and be done with it and I have heard also that some stores are considering discontinuing self-checkout for that reason, yeah.

REHM

11:53:34
Huh, interesting. Our local CVS has that kind of self-checkout, as does the local Super Giant. Let's go to Andy in Prince George's County, Md. Good morning, you're on the air. Andy, are you there? Let's try that again.

ANDY

11:53:56
Yes, yes.

REHM

11:53:58
Are you there, sir? Go right ahead.

ANDY

11:54:00
Yes. You know, I'm struck -- just sort of a follow up, I'm struck by the issue of the psychology of deterrence. A large Big Box retail store that I occasionally patronize has staff that work the one exit and they had their Sharpie pen in hand and they check every single receipt...

SHTEIR

11:54:24
Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

ANDY

11:54:25
...against shopping carts leaving the building. Anyway, it just seems so completely theatrical and formulaic and they barely pretend to be paying any real attention and I wondered about that, about that -- the placebo value of security and I have a short follow up after I get a comment from your -- from your guest.

SHTEIR

11:54:47
Yes. There is a placebo value to security, the thing Diane has spoken of about somebody watching you, just that sense.

REHM

11:54:56
My own mother (laugh).

SHTEIR

11:54:58
Her mother, exactly. Who could better watch anybody than their mother? So that is why, actually, there are greeters in stores. One of their function is to deter shoplifters.

REHM

11:55:11
But, you know, Andy spoke about what's in the basket going out, but it's not all in the basket.

SHTEIR

11:55:17
It's not all in the basket, but I -- Andy, I don't know about, you know, the particular stores you're talking about, but I would say that that thing of Big Box stores checking people's receipts, that is in direct response to shoplifting. I mean, that didn't exist, say, I don't know, 10 years ago.

REHM

11:55:35
One last question for you, Rachel, and whether racial profiling has been used an awful lot.

SHTEIR

11:55:48
Yes, it has been. I talk about it in the book and I think it also speaks to something that the earlier caller was saying about how she used behavior to discover when someone was shoplifting, as opposed to any particular idea of race, gender, age or whatever. Most criminologists agree that the way to tell if someone is shoplifting is through these series of behavioral tells, not through any race, gender, age, anything.

SHTEIR

11:56:24
So those things have -- certainly profiling has been used in the past. The industry is trying to certainly downplay and phase it out.

REHM

11:56:33
So you've had big stores, even, you know, the biggest department stores, being really accused...

SHTEIR

11:56:42
Yes, absolutely, yes.

REHM

11:56:44
...of racial profiling.

SHTEIR

11:56:45
Yes, shopping while black, everybody knows that phrase and then, yeah.

REHM

11:56:48
Well, I hope your book helps people to understand that that's really changed a lot. Rachel Shteir, her new book is "The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting." Her last name, by the way, is spelled S-H-T-E-I-R. Thanks for being here.

SHTEIR

11:57:12
Thank you for having me, Diane.

REHM

11:57:14
And thanks for listening, all, I'm Diane Rehm.

ANNOUNCER

11:57:17
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