Police caught a shoplifter with merchandise from a retailer but ultimately let him go after the store’s manager said she did not want to press charges.
A Home Depot employee called police to report a theft about 9 a.m. Thursday and gave a description of the suspect and his vehicle, which was heading north on Southern Boulevard, police said.
An officer stopped the suspect’s car a few blocks away, near Lucy Drive, and the suspect got out of the car and began to run toward the cruiser, reports state.
The officer drew his gun and ordered him to stop, and the suspect complied, police said.
Boardman Police Chief Jack Nichols was in the area and stopped to assist the first patrolman. Nichols said the two patted down the suspect and found merchandise stolen from Home Depot.
When officers went to Home Depot, the employee who called police said he could not cooperate with the prosecution of the suspect because of Home Depot’s corporate policy: Suspects who take merchandise outside the store are not to be pursued, according to police records. An unidentified female manager recited the same corporate policy, police said.
Home Depot spokesman Stephen Holmes told The Vindicator on Friday he could not comment on specific corporate policies but said the company “aggressively defends against theft and has protocols in place.”
“We do have asset-protection associates in the field and in stores, and there are different policies regarding what they can do versus what non-asset-protection associates can do,” Holmes said.
“There are strict policies and we enforce them, and we have them for the protection of customers and associates. No amount of merchandise is worth risking anyone’s safety,” he continued.
Police said both the Boardman manager and employee expressed greater concern Thursday that an employee may have violated corporate policy by following the suspect through the entrance of the store than that a crime had occurred, or that police became involved because of the report of that crime.
The officer asked what the store wanted police to do with the suspect and was told nothing. Then, the officer asked if the store wanted its property back, and he wrote in the police report: “I was told ‘No, he can keep it.’”
Without witnesses to go to court and someone willing to pursue charges, police released the suspect and let him keep the stolen property.
“The problem is we could have arrested him, but we have no witnesses to proceed with the case and then it gets dismissed,” Nichols said.
Holmes said the corporate asset-protection team is reviewing the Boardman case.
“They’re going to see if they can appropriately assist with prosecution,” Holmes said.
The chief said the whole episode was extremely frustrating.
“There’s a number of stores of that do that — don’t pursue shoplifters — and essentially when word gets out, [those stores] are funding the heroin trade,” he said.
Nichols said many shoplifting cases involve drug addicts who are stealing to either trade the items for drugs or sell stolen items to get cash for drugs. He did not say if that was the case in Thursday’s incident.
“When a store throws up their hands and says, ‘Go ahead and take whatever,’ that’s how people fund their habits. It’s just ridiculous,” he said.