Petty theft from grocery stores is a regular occurrence, says the manager of Western Foods in Langford, where employees last week chased and caught a candy thief with the help of Mayor Stew Young. Bill Oxford/iStock photo

EDITORIAL: Retail theft not a victimless crime

Chasing down of Langford store thief prompts discussion of theft in general

In our fast-paced world of social media, the appeal of a Wild West-like story where the mayor of Langford helps corral an alleged petty thief is immediate and strong.

As we found out this week by following up the story of two grocery store employees chasing down the suspect, with Stew Young’s help, retail theft is not a victimless crime, even when the thief happens to get away with the goods.

Retail merchants can be hit hard by theft – known in accounting terms as “shrinkage.” They factor in a certain amount of loss every month and year to their financial statements, but that can force them to raise prices to cover the losses. For smaller merchants, that doesn’t help them remain competitive in the kind of busy marketplace that we enjoy on the West Shore.

But what of the thieves? As West Shore RCMP Const. Alex Berubé pointed out, petty criminals range from repeat offenders to single parents struggling to put enough food on the table for their children. While we recognize that other issues and life circumstances might convince them that stealing is defensible, not every theft should be treated equally.

One caught stealing for a first time, for example, should be cut a certain amount of slack, with restorative justice options strongly considered as opposed to a criminal record. On the other hand, someone with a history of theft needs a stronger message sent, such as jail time, to demonstrate that such actions are not acceptable in civil society.

It almost seems that people who steal food items, as opposed to those who steal big-ticket items such as jewelry, electronics or even cars – often as a way to supply money to support a drug or other substance addiction habit – gain more sympathy from the public. Even for those people it may be that stealing itself has become a habit, one that needs a crisis point, such as getting caught, to prompt a change in behaviour.

It behooves all of us to speak up when we observe someone stealing. Doing so not only helps the merchant, it can provide a turning point in the would-be thief’s life that sets them on a right road.