Have you ever played cops and robbers? It's fun pretending to be a cop chasing and capturing a robber. It can be even more fun to be the robber because you take things and try to get away with them before your buddy, the cop, catches you. You're not really stealing, of course. It's just make-believe.
Or maybe you're playing baseball, trying to steal a base and not get tagged out. When playing basketball, you can steal the ball from a player on the other team. A stolen base or a steal on the basketball court can help your team. Hey — it's fair play and it's part of the game!
These are both examples of pretend or imaginary stealing that are OK, but there is another form of stealing that is wrong.
What Kind of Stealing Is Wrong?
When a person takes something that belongs to somebody else without permission, that is stealing. The stolen object can be as small as a piece of candy or as big as a car. It can be taken from someone a person knows or from a stranger. It can be taken from a store, a kind of stealing called shoplifting, or from someone's home. But either way, it's stealing.
People can steal words and ideas, too. For instance, if someone takes your book report and tells the teacher that she — not you — wrote it, that's another form of stealing. Imagine how upset you would be if that happened to you!
Why Do Kids Steal?
Little kids age 4 and younger may not understand that they shouldn't take things that don't belong to them. But by the time you are 5 or 6, you understand what's right and what's wrong. Most school-age kids know that they aren't supposed to take something without asking or without paying for it.
Still, some kids lack self-control. They might see something they want and take it. They don't stop to think first about what might happen. They might not think to buy the object or ask to borrow it. Kids get better at self-control as they grow. Some kids may need extra help learning self-control.
Some kids steal because their friends or family members do it or because they might have been dared. They might believe their friends will like them more if they steal. Doing something for these reasons is called peer pressure, but kids don't have to give in to it.
Some kids steal because they feel something is missing in their lives. What's missing may be love or attention. Or simple things like food and clothing. They may be angry, sad, scared, or jealous. They might steal as a way to deal with the situation. But stealing won't fix what's missing.
Other kids might have personal problems that lead them to steal. They may feel jealous of what others have. They may feel unloved and neglected. Or they may be upset that their parents are arguing or getting divorced. But stealing won't solve these problems.
Other kids don't care about rules. They steal because they think they can get away with it. They may believe they deserve to have the stolen goods. But kids need to learn respect rules and the rights of other people.
What Can Happen if You Steal?
Stealing causes a whole bunch of problems. Suppose a kid sees a pen in a store and decides to take it. If she gets caught, the store owner might say she's not allowed in the store again. The owner might tell her parents. She may have to give money to pay for the pen and the police could be called because stealing (including shoplifting) is a crime. She could be arrested, especially if she has stolen before, and that could lead to more problems. She may have to go to court and may have some sort of punishment, like having to do work in the community to make up for what she has done.
How does stealing make someone feel? Whoever is stealing is probably nervous during the act itself. If a kid gets away with it, he may be relieved at first. Later, he feels lousy because he knows what he did was wrong. He also might be afraid that someone will discover his secret, and he'll want to deny it. But lying will only make matters worse.
Kids who gets caught might be really embarrassed. Then they may be ashamed because they let their family down. They may feel like nobody trusts them anymore. They might feel stupid and worried. What if they go to jail? What if their favorite teacher finds out? What if they loses their friends?
But even when kids don't feel these things, stealing is still wrong. Why? Stealing has serious consequences (say: CON-seh-kwen-sez) because it hurts everyone:
- Stealing causes a big problem for a family when the thief is caught.
- Store owners have to spend more money to protect their things, which makes prices go up for paying customers.
- Kids sometimes don't trust each other with their belongings.
- People don't feel as safe when they're worried about someone stealing.
- Stealing can even lead to violence. Some kids carry weapons to protect themselves from other kids who may want to take their jewelry or clothing. This can lead to even more problems.
What Should You Do if You Know Someone Who Steals?
If you know someone who steals, you shouldn't just shrug it off. That's like saying stealing is OK. You can tell the person that stealing is wrong or that you're concerned about him, but he may get angry with you. It's a good idea to tell a parent, teacher, counselor, or other adult that you trust. Then leave it up to the adult to decide how to handle the situation.
Don't hang out with kids who steal. It's not smart to go along with someone just because he's your friend or because you don't want to be left out. Follow your conscience (say: CON-shens), and don't do anything that would hurt others. Do what you know is right.
If someone is caught stealing, you could get in trouble just because you were there with him when it happened.
When Stealing Becomes a Habit
Some kids who steal once might do it a second and third time, until it becomes a habit. Repeat stealers often act in other bad ways, too. They may lie, fight, cheat, or write graffiti. They might ignore rules and disrespect other people and their belongings.
But even if stealing has become a habit, kids who steal can change their ways. Kids sometimes make mistakes, but there are ways to get back on the right track. Kids can ask adults to help them. Parents, counselors, and other adults can help kids with troubles that may have led them to steal in the first place. Kids can learn right from wrong, get better at self-control, and learn to solve problems without stealing.
When kids are honest and follow what they know is right, they feel happier and a whole lot better about themselves. Learning how to get what they need — without stealing — can be a big relief.
Neither the Police Department nor the Queens district attorney’s office said any complaints about the practice had been received. But its critics argue that the accused shoplifters are deprived of basic civil rights and the usual assurances in public legal proceedings, like the right to a lawyer and freedom from coercion, and are not being held by adequately trained security officials with proper oversight.
“If a store owner says he’ll call the police unless you pay up, that’s extortion, that’s illegal,” said Steven Wong, a community advocate in Chinatown, sitting in his office above a restaurant on Square. “And putting up pictures in public, calling someone a thief who has never even been formally charged, that’s a violation of their civil rights.”
It is unclear exactly how widespread this practice is, and whether threats of arrest are always used, but it is used in certain predominantly Chinese neighborhoods around the city.
Many accused shoplifters plead poverty. But they usually manage to come up with money to pay their way out of being publicly shamed and arrested, Mr. Shieh said, often after calling upon friends and relatives for the cash.
Fears of being deported often color their panicked responses.
“Two weeks ago, a woman tried to take two bags of grapes worth maybe $10,” he said, speaking in Chinese.
The woman first said she had no money, but somehow found some. “She came back with eight new $50 bills,” Mr. Shieh said.
At the Chang Jiang Supermarket on Kissena Boulevard in Flushing, where hawkers of fresh produce in sidewalk bins continuously yell out specials in Chinese, credit cards are accepted from accused shoplifters for payment to avoid arrest, said the manager, Wu Jian Si.
“They just say, ‘Run the credit card,’ ” said Mr. Wu, 30, speaking in Chinese. “They have money.”
Fliers posted in the store display images of accused shoplifters and of a man being escorted by the police, along with warnings in Chinese and English that say, “If we catch, we will take your photo for records and your fine will be $400 or you go to prison.”
The fines are necessary, Mr. Wu said, because the police do not always arrest the accused shoplifters. And even if they do, Mr. Wu said, “The most they’ll get is 24 hours.”
Many of the accused shoplifters are immigrants who have a heightened fear of authority, and they often are in the country illegally, said Jason Sanchez, 24, who has worked as a security guard at several Chinese markets in Flushing.
“They figure they’ll be deported, so they’ll do anything to get the money,” Mr. Sanchez said. “Some stores ask for $400, or some ask for $200 — it becomes a negotiation.”
In an example of the wall-of-shame style that certain stores use, a grocery called NY Tak Shing Hong, on East Broadway in ’s Chinatown, posts photographs near the cash registers, some bearing names, addresses and numbers of the persons depicted. Several also include simple descriptions in Chinese, like “Stole Medicine” and
Some store owners share their photographs with other stores, or post them in other store branches they own. For example, an image in the Chang Jiang market of a man holding up a large stash of live fish in a plastic bag, with the words “Big Thief,” can also be seen in several other stores in the area.
The Chung Fat Supermarket on Main Street in Flushing posts photographs of accused shoplifters on the front doors and up above the cashiers.
“All we can do is put up their pictures and let them know we do something about it,” a manager, Sam Lim, 42, said in Chinese, referring to the many photographs of suspected shoplifters posted near the cashiers.
Chung Fat has 100 surveillance cameras. According to a sign in a storage area, first-time shoplifters face a $500 fine, and repeat offenders must pay $2,000.
Store officials acknowledge, though, that they are rarely able to collect much money from offenders.
Some of these enforcement policies have recently come under fire. Last month, two Chinese immigrants spoke out after being wrongly accused of shoplifting at the New York Supermarket, a store under the Manhattan Bridge in Chinatown that posts photographs of accused shoplifters next to the cashier, behind the live crabs and eels.
One of those immigrants, Li Yuxin, said that after being accused of thievery, she began weeping in front of a crowd of shoppers. The other immigrant, Liang Huanqiong, a 60-year-old home attendant, said that false accusations of theft damaged her reputation and caused mental anguish.
The episodes made headlines in Chinese-language newspapers, and store officials apologized to the women and said they would train employees to better recognize thievery and use more sensitivity in approaching suspected shoplifters, the articles reported.
Both women are being advocated for by Mr. Wong, who is critical of the practices despite the apparent vagueness of the law. The police declined to discuss the legality of the practice because they had not investigated it.
In New York State, a retailer may sue a thief (who has stolen any type of item, costly or not) for the item’s retail price up to $1,500 if the item cannot be resold, along with a penalty of $75 to $500, depending on the item’s price. Usually, the retailer threatens legal action and settles for a sum in the hundreds of dollars, experts in loss prevention said. This process is separate from criminal prosecution and can take place without arrest or conviction, and even if the case is criminally tried and thrown out.
Richard Hollinger, a sociologist and criminologist at the , said a shopkeeper demanding money on the spot was a version of the legal process of civil recovery outside the law. He said it could veer into extortion, which New York law defines in part as demanding payment by making a person fear he will be accused of a crime or charged with one.
Mr. Sanchez, the security guard, said some stores paraded the shoplifting suspect up and down the aisles, announcing the attempted theft to customers.
“It is truly the walk of shame,” he said.Continue reading the main story