Guard Detains 4-Year-Old Shoplifter

Filed in Gather News Channel by on November 24, 2011 0 Comments

At what age does a child learn right from wrong? At what age does a child learn to manipulate the system to his or her advantage? A security guard in Everett, Washington, seems convinced that young children are just criminals in the making. The guard in question detained a 4-year-old shoplifter for questioning and is paying a hefty price.

According to the Seattle PI, Savannah Harp was out shopping with her dad at a nearby Safeway grocery store. Maybe they were doing some last-minute Thanksgiving shopping or gathering snacks for the upcoming Black Friday festivities. Little Savannah must have gotten hungry, because she took a bag of dried apricots from the shelf, opened it, and ate a few pieces before putting it back.

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Her dad didn’t notice—not surprising, since grocery shopping with a small child even on a good day is a test of patience and tolerance. A security guard for the store saw it and took her and her father into one of the store’s back rooms for questioning. The Seattle Times notes that the guard threatened Savannah and her father with charges, and then told the duo that the child could be banned from all Safeway stores.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Washington Post goes into more detail, stating that the guard made the girl sign a paper acknowledging her status as a shoplifter and stating she was no longer allowed in Safeway stores. Are 4-year-olds even capable of signing their full names, let alone entering into a legally binding contract?

The name of the security guard is not public. Safeway officials are apparently “appalled” at his actions. The guard was fired for the snafu. Safeway spokesperson Cherie Myers said that the company policies are built on common sense, and that they are to protect the customers.

If the policies are built on common sense, why the ruckus? It seems like common sense that a child’s error in judgement is just that—an error in judgement. A 4-year-old is not necessarily the basis for a moral battle. Let this be a teaching moment for her and her parents, not cause for concern that she may have to live with this for the rest of her life because of a few apricots.

To Safeway’s credit, they decided not to press charges against the girl and issued a formal apology to the family. The company further promised to investigate their policies and revamp them as needed. It seems pretty ridiculous that they would even need to discuss the issue of pre-school shoplifters, but maybe having it in writing will keep other tots from being targeted.

This isn’t the first time Safeway has come under the microscope for questionable practices. A 30-week pregnant woman and her husband were arrested in Honolulu, Hawaii, for forgetting to pay for sandwiches that totaled about $5 in value. Are these incidents a pattern of behavior from Safeway stores? Are the accidental shoplifters the victims of crazy corporate security policies, a marked lack of common sense, or overzealous inventory control measures? Or are they just criminals in the making?

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