The New Sun Newspaper

Zero Tolerance
and the Baby Bandit

There is nothing in life that I dread more than shopping with my two year old, Kaitlyn. Whether it's grocery shopping at the local Albertson's store, or a trip to the Super Wal-Mart, shopping with a baby is a horrible experience. My daughter is so overwhelmed by the endless stream of varying shapes, colors and sizes, that anything within her reach is fair game; and there is a lot within her reach.

As my friend, Yuri Gudnikoff, a marketing major from Leningrad once explained, "You go to checkout counter. What have you? Magazines? Candies? Keychains? All at eye level. All designed to attract you, trap you into the impulse buy! You think we stupid? We do the same thing for infants in Russia. Strollers lift children only so high. Everything a two year old could ever want is on some display rack designed with a two year olds eye-level in mind."

I never really thought about it before, but Yuri is right. I spend more time pulling things out of strollers than I do putting things into carts. On one such trip, I was so flustered I couldn't even remember what I came into the store for. On another outing, I pushed my stroller out of a K-Mart only to find a pair of 101 Dalmatian sneakers tucked safely in the corner of the stroller. Needless to say, I marched baby Bandit Back into the store and up to the managers desk.

"We'd like to return these," I said, plopping the sneakers down
on the desk.
"Do you have your receipt?" the manager asked.
"I didn't even know we had the sneakers," I added, further explaining how they probably came to be in our possession.
"Keep them," the manager said. "They're a close-out and I appreciate the honesty."

So, I suppose I should have been a little more sensitive to my wife when I picked her up at the Manatee County Correctional Facility. My wife, you see, is a shopper, and early one Monday morning she set off for an area mall with Baby Bandit in tow. My wife was eight months pregnant at the time and felt the need to go out and buy all the hospital goodies that women fill their overnight bags with everytime they have a baby.

"What's wrong with the old nightgown?" I asked
"It's old!" she replied.
So my wife purchased a new nightgown. She then meandered over to the newborn section for several newborn outfits so that the baby might have one thing to wear for the trip home. Then she purchased an outfit for baby bandit. All total, my wife spent $179 dollars and some odd cents. When she left the store, she was immediately grabbed by a man identifying himself as store security.

"Is anything wrong?" my wife asked.
The gentleman leaned over the stroller and removed a palm sized Beanie Baby valued at under $10 dollars.
"You have a receipt for this?" he asked.
"No." my wife responded. "I didn't buy it."

This was probably not the single most significant statement my wife has ever made, but then my wife has never so much as received a ticket and firmly believes innocent people have nothing to fear.
"I'm afraid you're going to have to come back into the office with me," the security guard added.

My wife followed the man back into the store, up a flight of stairs and into a small office. Baby Bandit couldn't have been happier. On the way to the office she managed to replace the Beanie Baby she lost with two more and the security officer let her play with both of them. My wife offered to pay for the item, but the security guard told her that it "wouldn't be necessary." He apologized for all the trouble and explained that he was just doing his job. He typed up his report, placing little X's in all the places he wanted my wife to sign, assuring her that she could leave just as soon as he was done.

She signed in all the right places and did leave, in the custody of two Manatee County Sheriff's. "Let's face it," the manager of a major department store told me, "You don't have to be a brain surgeon to be a security guard. These guys have quotas. If they don't make quota, they're out of a job. And yes, you've seen the news reports. Some stores target women with strollers. People are so wrapped up in buying, they're not even paying attention to their kids. We lose a fortune in retail theft."

I posted a bond for my wife. We tied up the courts fighting the charges. What struck me as very funny to begin with wasn't really funny at all. My wife, who signed in all the right places, was found guilty and we were forced to pay a fine. While I don't doubt that there are women who go out and exploit children in strollers, I have to believe that they are part of a small minority. Perhaps it's time for policy changes, on both the part of prosecutors and department stores. Perhaps a store manager can be called in to make a judgement call; or victims could be forced to purchase what they claim their children snatched. After all, shouldn't women with no prior arrests be given the benefit of the doubt?

Jon Simonds can be reached at:
His bio