“I don’t think that many people are doing it anymore,” I’m told one recent Friday afternoon, sitting on a melamine chair in a Civic food court. These “people” are well off, private school-attending, Canberran teenagers.
We were talking about shop lifting, run-ins with security guards, being banned from Woolworths for 12 months. There was no shock revealed in the tone of my companions. Juvenile detention is seen as something to be avoided, but no a reality needing to be reconciled with.
“I didn’t ever do it to small stores,” my companion declares. “Only big places like David Jones.”
Is that because they can afford to lose what you’re taking?
“Yeah, something like that.”
I ask about what people are taking. Clothes? Electronics? Cigarettes? Shoes? I wasn’t far off the mark.
“All the normal stuff, I guess. But energy drinks are easy.” I was told two mutual acquaintances of ours had perfected the art of stealing energy drinks from Woolworths. “They’d stick the bottles down their pants and just walk out. It worked for ages until they forgot to check the aisle was clear. Someone saw them and now they’re banned for twelve months.”
The punishments vary, but everyone we talked about had avoided a court appearance. Some had avoided getting caught at all; it seems that teenage shop lifting is a game of luck, not skill. “When I got caught,” my companion told me, “I was lucky because I was only 16. I just got a warning. When you’re 17 you get charged.” He has since turned 17.
Does this worry people? Does it deter them from shoplifting?
“Not really. The thing that scares most people off are the buzzers on the way out of the shops. But if they go off and you disappear into a crowd, they can’t do anything about it.”
I’m told this didn’t deter a “bunch of Year Nines” who spent a period of time going into JB-HiFi and coming out listening to music, on headphones they’d just pinched. A few got caught and the craze died down, but the 15-year-olds still have their trophies.
“The easiest way to steal a T-Shirt,” I’m told now that my companion has loosened up, “is to take the one you want and a size bigger into the change rooms. You put the one you want on, and take the one that’s too large back.” Sort of like an alibi, I suppose. “Then you just walk out.”
The flow of the conversation is interrupted. “Have you ever had a cigarette, Jasper?” No, I say. But where are teenagers getting them? “The ones who look old enough just go in and buy them. But make sure you go to a dodgy, little shop. The Asian ones work the best.” Like the one near the bus interchange? “Yeah, that’s where a few people go. And if you get asked for ID you just say you haven’t got it; they don’t usually care. Some won’t sell them to you but they’re still easy to get.”
“I quite like smoking,” my companion adds. “But I don’t do it that often. Only when I’m drinking. Not like [Name Redacted – Another Mutual Acquaintance.] He’s totally addicted.” He’s old enough to buy them himself. It’s a combination of beard beginnings and a lip piercing.
He’s the same person, I’m told, who once walked into a shoe shop bare foot and brazenly walked out with a new pair of shoes sans receipt.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting any philosophical insights. Those who are shoplifting are more worried about the security guard remembering them from shops they’ve taken from than the moral implications of what they’re doing.