Saturday, October 1, 2011

Asset Protection

"Thank you for shopping at Wal-mart and have a nice day." Those are comforting words to shoppers around the world. When entering one of these stores I am usually greeted with a smile and personal acknowledgement or I am stranded trying to make eye contact with an individual who is missing a Halo party with his friends. Both scenarios are comforting. The "greeter", as they are called, is designed to be an asset protection employee for the world's largest retail giant. They are there to check returning merchandise and to deter merchandise from leaving the store without payment. No armed security personnel, Wal-mart prefers to take a more "friendly" approach to protecting its vast inventory.
But, sadly, Wal-mart is not always a place of smiles. The Deseret News and KSL ran stories several months ago on a happening at the Layton Wal-mart. I will paraphrase the story here but feel free to read it on the Deseret News website.

Low prices that just make you want to smile!
Wal-mart, like many retail stores, has a strict policy on how their employees should address shoplifters. On January 13th, a "shopper" unwrapped a netbook computer and hid it under his clothes. (Now, being the proud owner of a netbook computer, I can understand why he would want one.) Employees spotted him and the manager in charge of asset protection met him at the door. Per Wal-mart policy, this employee ushered the would-be thief to the asset protection room to confront him. Wal-mart chooses this method of confrontation so that other shoppers are not witnesses of the accusations and dealings. Keep on smiling everyone. Also per Wal-mart policy, three other employees were invited into the room to witness the proceedings and to make sure everything was handled according to the employee handbook. So far these all seem to be very wise moves on the part of corporate. 

Enter policy AP09. Policy AP09 simply states that (quoted from Deseret News) "employees are allowed to use 'reasonable force' to limit movements of struggling suspects. If a weapon comes out, however, associates must 'disengage' and 'withdraw'." Another seemingly smart move by Wal-mart. Obviously it is much better to protect the lives of the employees over the store merchandise. It seems to be sage advice that the life of an employee should be put over a $300 laptop. They must have also ran some calculations to show that it is more cost effective to hire a non-violent withdraw-ready "greeter" than armed security personnel trained to protect their merchandise. It all makes sense.

What happened next back in that asset protection room is shocking. The suspect drew a pistol and held it to the back of one of the employees. He threatened him and began to use him as collateral to make an exit. Per policy AP09, the employees were told to disengage and withdraw in the presence of a weapon. Fortunately these employees had souls. They immediately disarmed the suspect and detained him. They chose in that split second to exercise their rights as Human Beings to defend themselves and others rather than adhere to Wal-mart's policy. No one was injured.

Rather than extend to these four individuals medals and promotions, Wal-mart decided to fire them for violation of policy AP09.

Consider the alternative. One or more of those employees could have been killed. A violent gunman could have gone running through the store doing whatever he desired. A deadly hostage situation could have brewed. Instead, a crisis was averted through the brave actions of sales associates.

I understand the need for companies to protect themselves and their employees. But choosing to enforce that policy through dismissals over common sense is disgusting. It's true that had the workers let the man go, everything could have turned out all right. But nobody knows. And personally, if you have the clear opportunity to disarm a criminal and save someone's life, throwing the dice doesn't seem very reasonable. I guess that's business.

What is the human response to danger? Is it to reach for the corporate manual? Or is it to act on guts and instinct to do everything in your power to keep yourself and others safe? I'd imagine there isn't much time to think in those situations.

KSL recently released surveillance video of the event. That also wasn't without controversy. KSL filed moves to receive the video from Layton City four times before it was granted. Walmart opposed the video release by stating the following in a letter: "If Layton City intends to release Walmart's video tape to KSL, Walmart will move forward in district court, seeking an injunction to prevent Layton City from doing so under GRAMA." This leads me to the following question: Why wouldn't Walmart want the public to see video evidence of blatant policy AP09 violation?

When it comes down to it I guess these employees were left to choose between protecting their jobs or protecting themselves and others from being shot. I guess they could have gambled but that's just not the way they reacted. It was a lose lose situation for them. They had to react one way or the other. After all, they had already followed their company policy to bring an armed robber into their asset protection room. I mean, they could have lost their jobs if they hadn't.

At the end of the day, assets need to be protected. The laptop was saved. Company policy violations were enforced to their fullest extent. Hey, and no one got hurt. That should give everyone (who kept their job) something to smile about.

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