John Van Nostrand: Please pay for it or find those who help

Aug. 22—Leviticus 19:11. Don't steal.

I was surprised to see my bananas totaled $1 the other night at one of our stores that has one of those self-service checkouts. (It's kind of cool for me to see whole dollar amounts for items. See some episodes of the show "Monk.") The nearby employee was also paying attention to me.

He politely asked if he could see my checkout screen wondering if the bananas were recorded. In one second, I knew I was right. The following second I knew he was only doing his job. Sure enough, he saw the evidence I had scanned the bananas and he politely apologized for the interruption.

"You're OK. I know you are only doing your job," I responded. "I can't imagine what you have to watch for to prevent people from shoplifting."

He quickly agreed with a sigh of disappointment. Maybe I comforted him by not being defensive.

"You'd be surprised at how people try and steal," he added.

He had a banana story. He told me of a customer who placed the handheld price scanner on the scale and attempted to hold the bananas, which weighed much more, over the scale without touching it, to appear the bananas were being weighed for the price. He fortunately noticed the customer's attempt and caught her in the act. He said she tried to defend her actions, but the register was all the evidence needed. The bananas were not listed on the screen showing what had been paid.

Self-serve checkouts are expanding in retail. We have used to them at the gasoline pumps for years now. I do remember a station I grew up with you could pump, then pay an employee in a booth in view of the pumps. As the labor pool changed during the pandemic, and corporations were finding ways to produce with less expense, the self-checkouts popped up like dandelions. They are everywhere from grocery stores, fast-food restaurants and even some farm-and-home stores.

I have different strategies of using self-checkouts. If I have three or four things and am in a hurry, I will use them. But when I notice an employee overseeing the registers and able to use a traditional checkout, I will use the employee. "You look like you want something to do," or "You are here for a reason, right?" are my common icebreaker comments to the employees. Those employees have been positively responsive and want to do the work.

Others have told me if the end of the day's numbers show more activity at a traditional checkout than a self-checkout, that may change the store's mind. But you still have to hire someone.

Shoplifting has been a longtime problem. Stories from some California stores are disturbing and cause outrage mainly because of the lack of prevention control. Big-box stores are leaving some major West coast cities because of the shoplifting problem and lax legal proceedings following. A store manager at the job I had in college was very good in detecting shoplifters and that was before the popularity of security cameras we have today. Remember, it's shoplifting after the customer leaves the building.

I've heard second-hand stories of career shoplifters try to determine who the undercover employees are watching for shoplifters. Thiefs are regularly in the store and noting who is also there and when.

Shoplifting hurts the honest shoppers. It's basic capitalism. Stores that lose revenue because of shoplifting, can raise the price of items that honest people pay.

The people in genuine need, especially for food, have also been a longtime problem. There are many ways to help including the food banks in Creston. The Orient United Methodist Church also has a monthly food bank program; in a town of about 400 people.

More is being considered in southwest Iowa. I've been told a group of people in Red Oak are researching how to find and place typical refrigerators across town in public places. Grants may pay for the refrigerators. Some service clubs and others are working on details how to stock and monitor the refrigerators. That way for those people who are short on food dollars still have access to fresh or frozen meats, dairy and some produce. It's blind faith the people who will use them are the ones who honestly need it. There are refrigerated foods offered in Creston food banks.

I've had times in my life when money was tight, but was never tempted to steal. My bigger fear is when an employee or maybe another customer notices shoplifting and trails the suspect to the parking lot and the customer wants to be Dirty Harry and the confrontation turns violent.

All over $1 bananas.