Tales of the Unprotected

I spend part of my time working for one of the UK’s largest high street retailers. The worst part of this job is that I come into regular contact with thieves, drug addicts, delinquents and arseholes. Today, after coming off the phone to the police, I stood staring at the case reference number I had been given and was struck by a profound realisation: the most expensive, largest and well-equipped police force in British history cannot even protect us from petty thieves and punk kids. The giant cannot crush the ants. The ants do what the hell they want.

There’s a group of, let’s call them youthful scumbags, who like to frequent our store. Today, after a week-long absence they paid us a visit. It was the usual routine. One guy comes in first to see how many staff are around and to see how easily they can steal the expensive stuff, or just the things they want. Shortly afterwards, he returns along with his mates, male and female, and they scurry around the store like dead-eyed rats.

They almost always steal something and some of them seek confrontation (or perhaps it’s just any kind of attention). They will snarl “what you looking at?” if they catch your eye. They’re not like your straight-forward shoplifter who only wants to steal as much as possible and then run.

These guys never run. They stroll in and stroll out. They revel in the feeling of power that their number gives them. It’s a power trip, plain and simple, and they wander from store to store seeking out the next one. It’s pathetic, obviously, but it represents a genuine problem to high street retailers and their staff. It also has negative consequences for consumers because my colleagues and I cannot give our undivided attention to our customers when the shit bags are present.

Today, as four of the gang entered the store at a moment when a queue of customers had formed, I decided enough was enough. As I went to serve our customers, I instructed a free colleague to call the police in the hope that if they arrived quickly enough they could confront the aresholes and make them think twice about coming back. We rarely call the police, for reasons which will become clear.

Some minutes passed before my colleague came over to me holding the phone. By this time the gang had already left. It’s quite possible they had begun to suspect that we were calling the police and so bolted prematurely. I took the phone. The guy on the other end asked for a description of the gang members. I gave the best descriptions I could and told the person that we have CCTV footage of them from a previous occasion, and that they regularly come into our store. He acknowledged this, but glossed over it.

He asked if I wanted a police officer to visit anyway even though the gang had left. I explained that this would be rather pointless. He gave me a reference number and then put me through to some other department whose name I don’t recall and for reasons that I didn’t quite understand. After a few rings a man answered and it quickly became apparent that he had no idea from where I had been transferred or indeed why.

“Do you want to report a crime or have you already reported one?” Said the man, rather testily.

“I’ve just reported one. Your colleague asked me if I wanted a police officer to visit, I said no, and so he said he would put me through to you to take further details, or something…”

“What details?”

“I don’t know. Erm…I have a reference number?”

Ok, what is it.”

“It’s CAD1…”

“Oh. That’s a CAD reference number.”

I hear typing.

“So what actually happened?”

I then proceeded to describe what had just happened, but apparently I was being nowhere near concise enough because he interrupted me multiple times and with increasing impatience on his part. He was annoyed with me. He was annoyed with me for not knowing why I was put through to him and for not describing the incident in absurdly minute detail – i.e. I walked from here to here. Then I stopped. Then I looked up.

Clearly his job was to produce a report of this incident of Dickensian quality and size. Presumably his report is now stored on some expensive government database, which highly paid civil servants will spend their lives analysing.

I just wanted a few cops to come along and put the frighteners on these little shits. But instead I got two reference numbers, an interrogation and a scolding. Brilliant. What am I to do? Wave my crime reference numbers in the faces of these lowlife’s and hope they run away?

Some thieves and lowlife’s, like the gang that harasses us, only understand one thing: the threat of force. Given that certain individuals keep returning to hassle us and steal from us, it’s clear that only an immediate potential to use force would be enough to deter them. But due to the law prohibiting the use of guns, Tasers or even pepper spray, our security guards cannot act as an effective enough deterrent.

Legally prohibiting the use of weapons in defence of person and property leaves businesses no choice but to rely on the police to deter thieves and troublemakers. The flaw in this system is that the State police force is just a single agency; it cannot perform this role for the whole of society and thus it doesn’t do it for anyone – except for the political elite.

Not only is it impossible for the State police to provide effective protection and crime deterrent services to everyone in a city like London, but laws prohibiting the use of guns, Tasers and pepper spray in self-defence prevent anyone else from providing effective private solutions. The State can’t solve our problem and the State prevents anyone else from solving it. It’s a double kick in the bollocks.

Just like the archetypal obsessed and murderous lover in movies screams “If I can’t have you, the no one else can!” The State bellows “If I can’t protect you, then no one else can!”

This state of affairs is most advantageous to the lowlife’s that infect the high streets. As is the fact that under current UK law shoplifting is punishable by fine and not usually even imprisonment. Yes, according to the State, stealing is the moral equivalent of not paying a parking ticket. Given that we see the same thieving faces week after week, month after month, it is clear that fines do not deter shoplifters or prevent shoplifting.

Most of my company’s stores do not have security guards. Our guard is not with us every day and we didn’t have one at all until several months ago. What’s going on here? Well, the minimum wage and all the other government economic impositions that raise the cost of using labour means it is not cost-effective for all or most stores to contract security. Once again, at the root of the problem is the State.

This is just the company I work for. Consider for a moment that countless high street retailers all across the land have the same problem and you begin to get a sense of how the State’s monopoly on protection services degrades the quality of our commercial lives.

In modern Britain we have come to accept persistent petty theft and antisocial behaviour as if it were a fact of existence. It seems like something we can do nothing about, and so we just let it happen. What else can we do? Nothing, so long as the State remains in the way of solutions.

I like to imagine a world in which my store’s manager was free to employ a security guard at the market rate. This would be a world in which security guards were free to carry a weapon, if they wished to, in order to provide an effective protection service; a world in which thieves and lowlife’s could not steal and harass shop workers with virtual impunity.

This freedom for peaceful people to protect themselves from thieves and lowlife’s actually once existed in the UK, up until the beginning of the 20th century. To restore the standards of decent society this freedom must return.

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