Friday, 11 March 2011

My Letter to Stealth Security

Following the incident I encountered with the security officer as described on my previous post, here is a copy of my letter to the Stealth Security organisation to complain about my treatment. As you will see I have put (name) where I named in the letter the name of the stealth security officer:

Dear Sir,

I am writing to issue a complaint about the way in which I was dealt with by one of your security staff. May I first explain what happened to me, and then I will tell you why I am complaining, and how I believe this incident should have been better handled.

On Saturday 26th February, at approximately 12:45pm I left the Superdrug store in Worthing, South Street, after having browsed through the store and having not purchased any items. I had however, previously entered the store about an hour earlier in the day to purchase just one bar of soap, for 56p.

Immediately after walking out of the Superdrug store at 12:45pm, I was approached by a man, who later informed me his name was (name) from SLR Stealth Loss Reduction Services, who immediately asked to have a look in my bag. I was carrying with me a Topman plastic bag, which had one broken handle. The bag contained a few items, the soap I had purchased previously, plus my wallet, a Lloyds bank paying in book and a used envelope.

When the man (name) asked to see my bag, I asked for his ID, for which he opened up a wallet to show a card. Because of the way he was dressed (in casual clothing) and his manner, I suspected him to be a potential thief who was out to steal my money, so I refused to show him my bag and I ran as fast as I could. In response, (name) chased after me, alongside a security officer, apparently from Marks and Spencer opposite.

Naturally I was in a state of shock over all this. I have never before been stopped by the police, and everyone who knows me knows I am a responsible, law-abiding member of the public. (name) and the assisting security man seemed convinced at this point that I had stolen something. He claimed that he was doing this because of CCTV footage in the shop, which appeared to show me dropping items such as batteries, into my bag and then walking out without paying.

As someone with Asperger’s Syndrome, I am inclined to panic over things easily, and hence I was in a terrible panic over what was happening. I was threatened with arrest and being sent to the police station. Fortunately a work colleague and her family passed by and when I called upon her, she tried to help me to explain my position. I showed them the soap I had purchased, and also showed them the receipt I had for it, which had been purchased earlier on in the day. It eventually became clear, with the help of my work colleague, that I had not stolen anything. (Name) then apologised to me but then told me I should be more careful in future, as the CCTV appeared to show me trying to slip items into my bag. He gave me his name and told me he was from SLR Stealth Security Reduction.

My Complaint

Whilst I understand that a company such as Superdrug needs to prevent theft from their stores and challenge any suspected theft, I wish to take issue with the way this was handled and make a few points.

Firstly, (name) from SLR was dressed casually, and he did not look or sound remotely professional. When I asked for his ID, he just got out his wallet to show me a card but it contained nothing to make it look authentic. In short I could not safely allow him to look into my bag despite the fact I had not stolen anything, because I suspected he might be a thief, and I had to therefore run away in panic. The fact I ran and panicked made me look like I had stolen some goods, and as a result he and the security officer appeared to accuse me of stealing without any evidence (guilty until proven innocent?), not realising my panic was due to the sheer shock of the incident and fear of the unknown and had nothing to do with me having stolen something. It was a catch 22 situation for me, either I offer up my bag to a suspicious looking man, or I ran away and look like a criminal guilty of theft.

How It Could Have Been Better Handled

If instead I was approached by a person who was very clearly identifiable as a security officer, dressed in uniform, who would greet me with a polite “Good afternoon Sir”, and explain to me properly who he was and what he was doing, and who went onto state along the lines of “we are not accusing you of anything but we have seen you on CCTV and we just wish to check that you haven’t stolen anything…” regarding me as innocent until proven guilty, I would have had no problem showing him the contents of my bag, including the soap and the receipt. He would then have been able to say “thank you very much Sir have a good day” and all the difficulties would have been avoided. Although as I mentioned, a man dressed in uniform did come into the scene, by this time I was in complete panic over the incident and unable to think rationally.
I cannot see how any individual could feel comfortable in showing the contents of one’s bag to the SLR officer on duty that day. Consider that, if you or I wished to get hold of people’s money or possessions, it would not be at all difficult for us to go out and pose as a stealth security officer with a fake ID, stand outside any shop, ask people leaving the shop to open up their bags in the name of security, and then immediately snatch their bags and steel their wallets.

I would also like to raise awareness of Asperger’s Syndrome. Asperger’s Syndrome is a social communication disorder, and whilst individuals with the condition vary, one of the symptoms of it can be an increased tendency to panic over unknown or unexpected things, and increased reactions to things. Naturally because of this, it made the officer’s suspect that I was guilty of theft, even though my panic was due to the whole incident occurring and the unknown involved.

May I request that you consider the issues that I have discussed in this letter, as on this occasion your stealth security procedures forced me into a threatening situation which I know could have been avoided if they were done differently. I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

(my name and signature)

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