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Camouflage Shopper: A Security Guard at Work

Lifestyle & Opinion

By Charlie Simms       

Hunting. Waiting. Waiting for the bad apple to show itself. Inside everyone’s favorite shopping experiences, waiting among the common people, is a snake waiting to attack its prey.

Loss prevention, security if you will, is something all stores need to protect their product and their patrons. The job includes: Reporting suspicious behavior to management, apprehending offenders, filing paper work, and walking the sales floor as a human security camera. The company contacted has many guards on staff, but this focus is on just one.

Our subject for observation today name is Samuel (last name excluded for security purposes). Samuel begins his day by driving to one of twenty locations scattered throughout the Pinellas Park area. USSA, United States Security Associates, a company that provides undercover security for businesses, protects its workers by using this technique. Using this prevents cliental of stores to get used to the faces of their staff, lower suspicions of a regular, and helps for schedule fluidity among the managers of the company.

When the subject arrives at his battle ground for the day, he reports straight to the main office to touch base with the manager in charge at that time. Samuel passes on a radio, which is part of his own personal set, and heads out onto the floor to start the day, beginning his mission.

Emerging from the hidden office into the light of the open Publix, which was the base for this day, was like entering a different world. When he entered he went from security guard to simply a person shopping for groceries. The bright store wasn’t very busy at this time, which was only 11am, but Samuel was ready for it to pick up around noon. Walking the tiled floor, behaving like he had nothing to hide, even though that was a lie. It’s like being an undercover spy, having to be someone else to catch a person in the act of crime.

When peak time comes around, there are certain things our subject looks for. Baggy clothing, large or reusable bags, suspicious behaviors like: watching employees intently, rushing around the store, seeming unusually nervous and looking around allot, all things that could make someone a target for the snake. These red flags are what cause Samuel to pursue an individual.

Even during peak time, when our subject needs to be on high alert, he still can take care of an errand or two while on the clock. Yes he did some of his shopping while on his hunt, why not, might as well kill two birds with one stone. The convenience and comfort of the job is really what was shocking. There is not a uniform that is required, just that a small pin must be worn somewhere on the body, that’s their badge. He tends to wear jeans, a t-shirt, and a soft hoody since the store is cold. The guards are allowed to actually shop, not just pretend, as long as they are still paying attention. Phones are allowed because it also helps them blend in. Basically they are able to act as normal as possible so that they don’t cause any raised eyebrows.

Weaving through the aisles, slowly. Reading boxes of cereal from the shelves. Placing things in his basket then putting them back later on. The slight pat of his feet on the cold, hard floor as he makes his way to a new area of the store. Moving, waiting, watching, being attentive yet discrete 4 hours at a time with only 30 minutes off his feet. Wandering after anyone who shows any suspicious behaviors. Blending into his environment. Stalking through his normalcy.

Then the chase begins as a gentleman slips a $6 bottle of lotion into his pocket. Samuel had been keeping an eye in this guy for about 30 minutes, staying close and acting normal, waiting for him to make a move, and he did. Samuel followed the individual up to the entrance of the store. He called over his radio to alert the manger that a man was attempting to steal merchandise. When at the front Samuel presented himself as loss prevention and noted how the man had taken an item from the store. The man then handed the item in question to Samuel and left the building.

In a situation like this, which is why our subject is here in the first place, the guard cannot make a move unless they are 100% sure that someone is stealing. “Don’t try even if there’s a 90% chance” he stated “to approach a person we have to make sure they got it, still got it, and are trying to walk out with it.” That’s why blending in is such a high aspect of this job, it’s easier to see someone stealing when they don’t think they are being watched.

Once someone is stopped at the front, our subject and the manager will ask them to come in the back and fill out some paper work, this is just basic information about the thief like their name, address, and other information. After that’s filled out, the person’s fate is in the hands of the manager and the store itself. Whether they are released, or apprehended by the cops is out of loss preventions control, they have done their job.

At the end of the day, Samuel goes in the back, gets his radio, clocks out, and heads out until the next day and next location. A bit anti-climactic for a truly alert job, but it has to come to a close somehow. So next time you go shopping, just watch how you carry yourself. No one wants to grab the wrong kind of attention.

Header photo by Mark Hllary (flickr creative commons)

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