Charity should begin at home, but should not stay there. ~ Philip Brooks
You have not lived until you have done something for someone who can never repay you. ~ Anonymous
A good laugh is sunshine in the house. ~ William Makepeace Thackeray
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NOT TAKING A CHANCE
I’m not going to say what the store is, nor am I going to say what merchandise was involved, so as to protect a secret. A secret that will not only protect someone’s identity, but will also showcase that not all we see is black and white. Sometimes, for the sake of compassion, we must allow, and forgive, some grey.
I’m standing in line as the cashier is ringing some things through the till for the gentleman ahead of me. I can tell he’s distracted. I look over towards what holds his attention. It’s a young lad, nervously inching his way towards the door. He leans over to the cashier and informs her that the security alarm is about to go off, and that he will leave his wallet at the till if she will allow him to handle the situation. He promises her that the store will suffer no losses.
The boy fidgets, as if he’s looking at something posted on the wall, and continues nervously inching his way to the door. The gentleman in front of me leaves the line-up and with perfect timing, grabs the young lad’s arm just as he’s going through the door, setting off a security alarm that informs everyone within earshot that some unpaid merchandise is leaving.
Immediately, several other store personnel show up out of nowhere. The gentleman waves them off as the cashier simultaneously calls out, “False alarm!” The gentleman kneels beside the boy, softly chatting with him. I can see the lad hang his head with guilt. Then, just as suddenly as the commotion started, he stands up. The boy hands him something. He shakes the boy’s hand and the lad leaves.
When the gentleman returns to the till, I see what the boy gave him. He puts a price tag in front of the cashier and asks her to add it to his tab. She smiles and tells him he’s a good man. The gentleman leaves and I’m next. “Did that guy just bail that kid out of a shoplifting charge?” I ask. The cashier confirms that he did and that, apparently, it’s not the first time he’s done it. She tells me that over the past two years, she recalls at least two other times he’s done the same thing.
I quickly pay for my items and rush out of the store, quickly scanning the parking lot. I see him closing the trunk of his car and getting ready to leave. But my curiosity is killing me, so I run to catch him. I get to his car, just as he’s starting the engine and startle him when I knock on his window. He rolls it down, “Can I help you?” he asks. I’m huffing and puffing (because I’m not used to running that fast…) and he waits while I gain both composure and breath.
“I’m hoping you have a few minutes to talk with me. I saw what you just did in that store,” I tell him. He turns his engine off. “That kid was shoplifting, and you bailed him out,” I start. He nods, “Yes…that I did.” “Well, I don’t mean to judge, but do you really think that’s teaching him anything? Don’t you think he’d learn a lot more if there were consequences?” I ask. “Perhaps, but I didn’t want to take a chance,” he replies. “A chance on what?” I ask.
“I’m a police officer,” he begins. “Sometimes, I’ll get called for a kid shoplifting and, depending on his demeanor or attitude, sometimes charges are laid and sometimes we just call their parents. When I’m in uniform, those are my only two choices. But I don’t always like the outcome of those two choices. If I charge him, he will tie up court time that usually costs way more than the merchandise he stole. If I call parents, sometimes they come and I’m confident they will handle it, but I’ve also handed over some kids to parents that made me feel uneasy. What if they shrug it off and the kid learns nothing, or worse, what if the parent loses it and the kid gets a beating?”
“But when I’m off duty, I have other choices. I choose to stop them. I tell them that everyone in the store knew they were trying to steal. I tell them that I can help them out of this if they promise to never do it again. I tell them that if they ever do it again, I will not help them next time and they will go to jail and their parents will have to bail them out. If they look scared enough, I ask them for the tag and tell them I’ll look after it. I ask them to shake hands on their promise to never do it again.”
I ask, “What if the kid isn’t scared?” He laughs, “I haven’t had it happen yet, but if it did, or if the kid gave me attitude, I wouldn’t ask for the tag. He’d continue out the door, the alarms would go off, and he’d end up in the back of one of my colleague’s cruisers.”
I thank him for his insight and tell him I admire his wisdom and compassion. I ask him one last question as I shake his hand goodbye. “What made you think of how to deal with this and why do you care so much?” As he starts his engine he says, “Because twenty-five years ago, I was that kid and another cop did that for me.”