Retail LP Investigators Charged With False Confessions

The NY Times has a report detailing concerns about retailer abusing investigations to obtain false confessions. Some key points / claims made:

  • US Employee theft estimated at ~$8 billion, about half that of shoplifting
  • Hard evidence of this, like video is rare.
  • "Retailers have turned to internal investigations, often using investigators trained in the same interview and interrogation methods as the police."
  • "Class-action lawsuits were filed recently against Home Depot and Macy’s, accusing them of using their loss-prevention departments to coerce confessions from customers suspected of shoplifting."
  • "Miranda rights apply only to criminal investigations, not to internal corporate investigations."
  • "AutoZone [a company repeatedly sued for these issues] still forbids the taping of interviews, citing a concern that the tapes could be “manipulated.”

Anyone have experience here to share?

With a few thousand retail employee interviews under my belt I can tell you no one forgids audio recording of an interview out of fear of manipulation. The fear is an unscrupulous or poortly trained interviewer willing to step over the line in order to get an admission. When later challenged it can be a substantial financial exposure for the retailer if hard documentation os such abuses were to be introduced.

Just as bad as gross investigative misconduct is a Statement Builder who leads employees to inflate the amount of loss they admit to causing simply to cover store shrinkage or to make the investigator look good in managment's eyes. An employee stealing small amounts every day for the first 30 days of employment might steal $1000 but through improper interview techniques be led to admit theft of $10,000. If the store's losses (shrinkage) don't equate to well over the admission amount it doesn't take a Wharton MBA to see the math doesn't add up. Thats where strong video documentation of method and frequency of loss proves it's ROI time and again. You know how often, how much and by whom before the first interview begins.

It boils down to sound, effective management oversight of investigations and LP investigators. If the emphasis is on training and prevention of loss rather than investigations, terminations & prosecutions there really isn't a culture where frequent abuses can exist without immediately rising to level of visibility.

Miranda warnings aren't usually required unless the interviewee is in custody, a law enforcement investigation has "focused" on the interviewee or the interviewee has been deprived of the right to freely terminate the interview and leave.

The bottom line is that it requires a culture of professionalis focued on profitability of the corporation, infused with a sense of what's right for the business and the people who ARE the business and willing to continually improve training & standards to ensure these types of issues are ferreted out immediately and dealt with agressively. The strongest AP/LP leaders in the industry have a well developed sense of what is right and equally clearly what is not.

Here's a simple test that illustrates the decision process at it's most elemental for an investigator:

1) Is what I am about to do legal?

2) Is what I am about to do in the best interests of my corporation and it's stakeholders?

3) If what I am about to do comes out tomorrow as the lead headline on the Wall Street Journal will I be proud of my actions or even the least bit ashamed.

If the answer to any 1 of the questions is no or not clear, then don't do it. Period. This test never failed to clarify which actions to take.

Human nature being as it stands often adds in the fourth:

4) Can i get away with it?