On shoplifters and Walmart


#1

Ok, so I know a group of guys who shoplift from Walmart. I have one of these guys in one of my classes and he brags about and implicates the others. So my question would it be moral from a Catholic perspective to take pictures of their faces and record a discussion about shoplifting from Walmart and then turn their (Walmart's) security so they might get caught and stop them from stealing anymore. How ethical is this?


#2

[quote="Capuchinfan1337, post:1, topic:324220"]
Ok, so I know a group of guys who shoplift from Walmart. I have one of these guys in one of my classes and he brags about and implicates the others. So my question would it be moral from a Catholic perspective to take pictures of their faces and record a discussion about shoplifting from Walmart and then turn their (Walmart's) security so they might get caught and stop them from stealing anymore. How ethical is this?

[/quote]

I would do it. These persons are willfully stealing, and over time may have stolen a large quantity of goods.

However, before you turn them in, I'd exhort them to stop doing it, and try to convince them, of their own free will, to not steal.


#3

I think it depends upon your motivations, as well their motivations for committing the crime. I admit that I would be tempted to betray them too, but I also admit I would do it because I think it would be hilarious. However, that would be me just wishing harm on them. On the other hand, they really are doing something wrong. I am not sure the punishment would fit the crime, though, in our present "law and order" climate.

If you really want to do this because, like me, you would think it humorous, and you are trying to rationalize it by pointing out they really are doing something criminal, then I am not sure it's worth it. While the crime does in fact have victims, Walmart has an obligation to secure their store more than they have been. They seem to have simply written off shoplifting as a necessary cost which does not outweigh the costs of trying to pursue it. Also, these guys will very likely get caught eventually, somewhere.

In the end, I think what makes it ethical is your intention and whether you did something to effect the better outcome. For instance, you could try to convince them not to do it. Then point out that if you hear about it again, you will give Walmart their photos just for the amusement of watching them get pinched. If you are willing to let them know you did it, and face whatever is their response, then I think your motives are pure. But I also think you should give them fair warning.


#4

Thou shall not steal, so how does the motivation for the stealing matter?


#5

Walmart has an obligation to secure their store?

Actually, no. If you go into a store and nobody is there, you have an obligation not to steal. This holds unless you/your family/person you're helping are starving and have no money, or there's an emergency which gives you no time to do anything but take now and pay back later.

If people are stealing for fun, they are more reprehensible than someone stealing for profit, because they have no real reason to do it other than malice and pleasure.

You have an obligation to defend law and order by turning these jerks in. If you don't, you are an accomplice and can be arrested along with them. And yes, God won't be amused either.

So yeah, if you really want to go to jail, burn in Hell, or both, feel free to keep mum and do nothing. But don't go crying to God if somebody steals from you for a big laugh.


#6
  1. Motivations.. a person could be motivated by necessity to steal. A person could be starving, their children in need, and so forth. I think a person ought to consider those motivations, and if those motivations include necessities, then a good friend ought to try to help the person fill those necessities without breaking the law.

  2. Obligations... Yes, they do have an obligation. They recently have done very little to secure these stores in a time when Americans are ever more necessitous. I personally get the impression that they simply calculated the financial impact of the thieving does not justify the expenses of more vigorous enforcement. Obviously it depends upon the managers of each store, and the individual economic incentives at each store.

No, I do not mean to say that people are justified in stealing because Walmart has basically become an unguarded warehouse open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. But I have seen several stores where I am quite certain they knew the place has ineffective security, but because their variable costs were so low, and the profit so high, they were unwilling to pay for security during the early morning hours when they are most likely to be targeted. They obviously have security in their high-priced items, so I don't think there are any other reasons why the rest of the store lacks the same level of care.

Nor do I mean to say that they somehow deserve being victimized by thieves. The point here is that the impact of those thieves ought to create an incentive for them to do something about it. If kids keep going back there and shoplifting with impunity, then turning in one or two of them is not going to solve the larger problem.

  1. My main concern with turning them in is the potential impact on their lives. It depends upon the state, I suppose, but many states are getting ridiculously punitive about crime. While I do tend to agree with strong penalties for violent crime, the penalties for nonviolent crime are insane, and do nothing to rehabilitate the criminal. The ideal solution to a problem like this one would involve straightening these kids out. Does the criminal court system do that anymore? I don't think so. Not in most places. If it's the only way to shake some sense into these kids, then so be it. But I doubt kids this brazen about it are going to get away with their crime sprees indefinitely anyway.

#7

[quote="Capuchinfan1337, post:1, topic:324220"]
Ok, so I know a group of guys who shoplift from Walmart. I have one of these guys in one of my classes and he brags about and implicates the others. So my question would it be moral from a Catholic perspective to take pictures of their faces and record a discussion about shoplifting from Walmart and then turn their (Walmart's) security so they might get caught and stop them from stealing anymore. How ethical is this?

[/quote]

If you are planning on recording them covertly you could be breaking the law yourself. 13 states are two-party notification states for recording conversations. This means that you cannot record a conversation you are participating in without the other participants' permission. And if your are not a participant in the conversation I believe it is illegal in ALL states to record the conversation without notification.

So basically, try and avoid doing something unethical yourself while trying to protect Walmart. I would think your best bet is to just tell them you think what they are doing is wrong. I highly doubt Walmart could legally use anything you gave them anyway unless you were directly pointing to someone at the time they are shoplifting. Everything else is just hearsay.


#8

Allow me to provide insight as a former Walmart employee. A lot of people think that stealing from Walmart is a victimless crime; they rationalize that since Walmart is a multi-billion dollar company, they can't be harmed by stealing a few things. That isn't entirely true though; each individual Walmart has certain profits and quotas to make, and surplus money goes into bonuses for employees. More theft means less surplus. So, by stealing from Walmart, you aren't hurting some fat cat executive millionaire, you're hurting baseline employees who could really use that money.

Having said all this though, I highly doubt this undercover stunt of yours would do any good. First, it's not like Walmart has a crack team of detectives, so your evidence wouldn't bust them on its own (and a recorded admission for something like petty theft wouldn't even make it to court). In all my time at Walmart, I've never heard of them hunting somebody down after they left the store (except that one time when there was a hurricane and somebody came in and looted EVERYTHING). For the sake of argument, I'm going to assume your "friends" aren't stuffing the entire electronics dept in their coats though. Walmart pretty much has to bust people in the act. Now, what it might do is make security raise an eyebrow and eye them more so they get busted on their next round. However, this would make recording them unnecessary, (not to mention more trouble than its worth. I mean, really, wearing a wire for petty theft? Kinda pathetic) all you'd need is pictures. Even then, hundreds of people go through Walmart everyday, kinda hard to pick out one set if you don't know when they're coming. So you're wasting your time no matter what you do.

Also, you won't be arrested for knowing about it and doing nothing, unless you're around them when they get busted. Cops don't track down people like that for petty theft, lol. Armed robbery? Yes. Petty theft? That's just silly. It's not even jail time for directly doing it, it's a fine.


#9

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.