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Don't confront shoplifters, police say

I was in (a retail store) earlier this week when a man walked out the front door with an armful of clothes still on hangers. Several shoppers, including myself, watched helplessly, and store employees said they couldn’t do anything about it. What should I have done? Should I have followed or approached the man? Or just called 911? 

— Megan L., Medford

That depends, Megan. Would you like to know how Chuck Norris would have you respond or Medford police?

Just kidding. We don’t want you kicking anyone’s butt over a few items of clothing, nor do the Medford police.

“I would never encourage a citizen to intervene,” said Medford police Lt. Kerry Curtis. “It’s really just not worth it.”

However, Curtis said you can notify store employees or call the police — the nonemergency number is 541-770-4783 — if you see someone stealing, watch to see which direction they go when they leave the store or whether they get in a vehicle. If they get in a vehicle, write down the license plate number.

Shoplifting is more prevalent around the holidays, police said. Many stores have employees who will monitor the security cameras and, once a shoplifter has left the store, make contact with them and ask them to return the merchandise and come inside, Curtis said.

“It happens so often, some of our officers practically live at these stores,” he said.

However, many stores have policies that prohibit their employees from pursuing shoplifters.

“A lot of stores don’t want their employees out chasing down thieves,” Curtis said. “Shoplifters can be unpredictable, and a lot of times are under the influence of drugs or alcohol and … do resist. A lot of businesses have the best interest of their employees in mind.”

Remember, it’s not a crime until the person has exited the store. Depending on the worth of the merchandise stolen, they could be cited for first-, second- or third-degree theft, Curtis said.

Megan, you may have noticed that we omitted the name of the store in your question. We didn’t want any newspaper-reading shoplifters to take advantage of its lenient policy.

— Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. To see a collection of columns, go to mailtribune.com/youasked. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.