Jack Pollock
Sweltering summer months mean smaller and more form-fitting clothing. For area shoplifters, this signals disaster. Stripped of coat sleeves and bulky clothes, their skullduggery becomes all too apparent. The Mercury searched for a group of shoplifters undeterred by the challenges of summer, and didn't go into hibernation after shedding their baggy raincoats.

"It used to be we could just stuff wine in our coats," reported Laura, an exuberant twenty-one year old. "But in the summer they'll follow you through the whole damn store if you come in looking like a skier."

A phone survey of malls, other large retail chains and area attorneys found that the rent-a-cops that patrol the automatic doors are, in fact, little more than toothless guard dogs. Fear over lawsuits for unlawful detention has caused many stores to adopt no-hold policies, whereby securities guards won't detain suspected shoplifters but merely phone the real police. Stores that detain minorities run an acutely high risk of being on the wrong end of a lawsuit, as the courts recently have frowned at anything faintly smelling of racial profiling.

One store guard told The Mercury about a recent shoe heist: A cute yuppie couple entered a department store and bee-lined for the shoe department. There, the woman tried on several pairs of shoes that were available without the assistance of a clerk. After finding a pair that fit, she placed her dirty footwear in the box. The guard watched the entire caper unfold, but because store policy prohibits detaining shoplifters, he let them go about their business. When they checked out, paying for other goods, he pushed the box, with her dirty shoes, under their noses. They apologized, gave back the shoes and split.

Our survey also discovered that area shoplifters are less subtle than we would have suspected. In late May, a non-descript customer walked into the hushed cavern of Lloyd Center's Whitehall Diamond Jewelers. Brazenly, the man asked the manager to examine a one-karat marquise solitaire diamond. After allowing the man to inspect the gem, the manager turned his back for no more than ten seconds. When he looked around the store a moment later, the man--and the diamond--were gone.

Over the next two issues, The Mercury will tag along with a group of avid shoplifters as they ply their trade in area stores. The way we figure it, "Why report the news, when you can be part of it?" Next week: The tricks of the trade.