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What To Do If Stopped by Store Detectives.

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | July 26, 2009

Posted by Cliff Tuttle (c) 2009

Retail theft is the major cause of inventory shrinkage and many stores are aggressively deploying various forms of surveillance and intervention to cut losses. Once they have stopped you, some stores will do anything they can, including violate your rights, to get the evidence they need for a conviction. To prevent being the victim of injustice, you should consider a few things now.

First, don’t fit the stereotypical profile of a shoplifter. DON’T go shopping in clothes that are dirty, torn or badly worn. DON’T wear baggy clothes, especially pants with lots of cargo pockets. DON’T wear sunglasses while in the store, even if the lighting bothers your eyes. DON’T carry an oversized handbag into the store, especially one that is open at the top. DON’T remove a price tag for any reason. DON’t open unpurchased food or drink in the store or put on clothing before you have paid. DON’T continue to shop after you have made purchases and have shopping bags in your hands.

DO carry a cell phone. DO have telephone numbers of several people you can call in an emergency on speed dial.

Second, if you suspect that you are being shadowed by store detectives, put down all unpurchased merchandise you are carrying and leave the store.

Third, if you are stopped by store detectives and asked to accompany them to a private location, politely say “no”. If they will not permit you to leave, insist upon calling the local police immediately. Refuse to give or show them anything you have purchased or to permit them to look in the bag. Refuse to permit them to search anything. Refuse to speak to them until the police arrive. Just stand there, in silence. While you are waiting, call a lawyer (if you have one on your speed dial) and ask him or her to come immediately. Otherwise, call a trusted friend and ask him or her to do it for you.

When the police arrive, insist upon the store detectives telling them, in your presence, the nature of the accusation. Then ask them to state what the evidence might be. Deny it. Then show the police what is in the bag or the pocket or wherever they say the item in question is located.

The purpose of all this is to deny them the opportunity to troll for evidence or even to plant it. Make sure you write down the names and badge numbers of the police, plus the names of the store detectives.

Remember that the store detectives are not making an impartial investigation. Once they have decided to collar you, they will do anything they can to make the charge stick. But, they don’t have the right to detain you for an unreasonable period of time. They don’t have the right to search your person or your personal belongings. Do not be intimidated into cooperating or confessing by the hope that they will decide to let you go. It won’t happen that way.

Don’t be intimidated by statements that they have all the evidence they need on film. You know that it didn’t happen. Have faith in yourself. Chances are, that they don’t have any evidence except the testimony of the store detectives — you can’t do anything about that, except perhaps to make it worse.

Remember: the burden of proof is on the accuser and it must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Don’t give them anything to use against you that they don’t already have.



CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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