Palo Alto High School's News and Features Publication

Verde Magazine

Verde Magazine

Verde Magazine

Opinion: Teenage thieves: Encounters with local student shoplifters

Jeslyn Chen

When I turned 13, I quickly accustomed myself to the role of a bystander as I watched fellow teens shoplift, but I never would have guessed that a few years later, I would soon be on the other side of the counter, expected to confront the same student shoplifters.

In April 2022, after I applied and received a job as a retail associate at a local clothing store, I was taught how to confront potential shoplifting suspects. Additionally, I knew how disproportionately shoplifting would hurt them as a small business compared to chain retailers.

In early August 2022, a couple days before my junior year started, it was a typical day alone on the job. Unbeknownst to me, I had company coming. For the sake of this story, let’s call this person James.

James, a fellow Palo Alto High School junior at the time of the incident, was known for his intense personality and his previous allegations of shoplifting, an ordeal for any customer service worker. As he walked in with his friends, I gave him a polite but stern verbal warning to not shoplift again. 

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Acting clueless, he denied shoplifting, but after realizing I was not buying his act, his front of innocence instantly flipped into aggression. He began tossing pants off the shelf and dragging clothing hangers to make a grating screech across the racks. I sat in shock, refusing to believe one of my classmates that I had grown up with was throwing a tantrum in front of me.

I sat in shock, refusing to believe one of my classmates that I had grown up with was throwing a tantrum in front of me.

Before I could process what was happening, James tore an expensive red windbreaker jacket off a wall and dashed for the door. My mind went from shock to guilt to panic. 

Although I was left unharmed, the wall wasn’t. To this day, there is still a ripped hole in the wall where the jacket hook stood. Ever since then, the hole has stood as a reminder of the incident and  I hoped I would never have to deal with a peer shoplifter again. 

In early March 2023, history repeated itself and I had to deal with yet another peer shoplifter — this time a Henry M. Gunn High School junior. For the sake of this next story, I’ll call her Beth.

Beth had a similar reputation of shoplifting from clothing stores, so I stayed vigilant when I recognized her bright red hair as she walked into the store, wearing two baggy jackets and sunglasses while preoccupied on a phone call. 

After quickly perusing the shelves, she grabbed a top and a pair of jeans, looked at me and motioned towards the dressing rooms. Nodding in approval, I made sure to note she had two items going in. When she came out, she only held one.

Coming out of a changing room and  concealing an item under baggy clothing is the oldest trick in the book. 

Concealing an item under baggy clothing is the oldest trick in the book.

When she exited the changing room, Beth made a beeline for the door, placing the shirt back on the racks while swiftly exiting. Although she was already out the door, this time I knew I didn’t have to go after her.

Considering that she was on a phone call coming in, and it was around lunchtime, I assumed she was calling to meet with friends nearby. I checked her friend’s instagram, and sure enough, one of her friends posted a picture of Beth at the diner nearby.

After I messaged her friend to warn her that Beth’s shoplifting had been caught on our security cameras, Beth messaged me herself saying she would come back the next day with $50 or the jeans she stole along with $50 “for the trouble.”

After some back and forth, she said that this was her first time stealing, claiming that she had paid for everything else up to that point. She added that she did not want to cause any more trouble, saying she was willing to pay “whatever amount.” Eventually, she brought back the cash to a coworker at the store.

Trying to reflect on the silver linings of these incidents, I realize I appreciate these shoplifting encounters for helping build my  self-confidence in having difficult conversations. 

For students looking into customer service jobs, situations similar to mine are inevitable, but always be ready to push through the discomfort of confrontation.  

Have you ever witnessed teen shoplifting before?