Useful — and not so useful distractions

By Les Linz

(Today’s column is, in part, an excerpt from Confessions of a Job Gypsy)

Much has been said of late about defunding the police, and several communities have done just that to some extent or another.

They’re finding out it has been to their own peril. Criminals applaud defunding the police. Law-abiding citizens do not.

The need to corral antisocial behavior has existed since sin was invented, though the pay to do so has more often than not been less than stellar. Enter the world of working for a security agency. I did.

If you’d called me “rent-a-cop,” I would have decked you. I was more than a mere security guard. I was an undercover detective for the formidable University Bookstore. I felt good about passing the polygraph — even better for passing the pee test. Now that I’d been photographed, fingerprinted and interrogated, I was ready for action — or reaction as the case may be.

A select few knew what I was. One of them approached me one day, as a known shoplifter entered the store and promptly made his way over to the record albums.

“He always steals them,” she said alarmingly.

I don’t think his kleptomania alarmed her as much as I was alarmed thinking about what he might do to me when I tried arresting him. He was 6-foot-6 — and that was just wide — he was as tall to match. He wore an army jacket so that concealing the contraband would be effortless. I had a physique that would have made Barney Fife jealous — 5’6” and 110 pounds. This guy literally weighed three times more than I did.

A quick decision needed to be made. Either I was going to arrest him for one or more acts of shoplifting — and die three seconds later — or I would do something to prevent it. I got up close to him, looking through the albums, too.

“How ya doin’, man?” I asked.

“Ah, all right,” he mumbled.

Then I secured the most expensive looking album I could find.

“What?!” I exclaimed loudly, feigning outrage,

“Twenty-five bucks for an album. Are they out of their minds? Someone ought to rip these records off!”

With that, he looked around nervously, put back what he had and left with a grunt of disappointment. I, on the other hand, slithered down onto the floor, all the while rehearsing how I’d tell my girlfriend about being snatched from the jaws of death.

The next incident worthy of comment came one afternoon when I observed two young college girls slip some items into their purses. I was excited. I had a live one here. Any security guard knows, the rule is this: If you see someone shoplifting, you must keep them in your sight at all times and then arrest them after they have exited the store.

I was watching these girls intently, though not lecherously. I was watching with such fervor that I did not see the 6-foot tall turnstile (loaded with trinkets) until we both cascaded in unison down to the floor. Drats! In store detective work, you want to watch out for diversion, not be the one that everybody sees. On that day, Peter Sellers, Inspector Clousseau and I were all one.

And then there was the last straw — the camel’s back-breaker.

The young lady behind the counter was ignoring any methodologies already shown to her. When you work a jewelry counter, you never turn your back to get something, once you’ve left something out or open (which you shouldn’t do in the first place anyway). The “nice” young man had been looking at college rings and quickly asked to see something else, which caused the clerk to turn around for a short time.

As she studied the peg board for the obscure item he requested, he began to place a bobbing hand by the exposed glass at the rear of the display case.

“Oh ma’am?” I asked, speaking and loudly coughing at the same time. “Can I ask you a question?”

As she turned around, the would-be thief tore a rotator cuff whipping his wrist out of view.

“I’m working with this gentleman first,” she responded correctly.

“Oh that’s OK, I understand,” I replied. “I’ll just wait here.”

Then I looked over to the felon wannabe.

“Nice day, huh?”

He didn’t respond, except for glaring. After the pseudo-patron left, the girl shot me a scowl, which softened when I told her why I had done what I did.

“Oh,” she said, tone low. She didn’t have to say it. That was apology enough.

There still was one more matter to take care of — my tenure.

The girls? That was no contest. The other two? Both the bookstore and agency wanted me to let the crooks do their thing and then arrest them. That’s where we disagreed. I thought loss prevention was worth several pounds of cure. We parted company.

So the question arises: Do you want to periodically risk loss of life and limb as an underpaid rent-a-cop? Or would you rather be a fairly paid public servant that risks life and limb on every call?

The choice is ours. We’re the ones with the pocketbooks and vote. REfund the police.

Les Linz of Seymour writes the “Humor: More or Les” column. For information about Linz, visit his author page. Send comments to [email protected].