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Wal-Mart Stores Inc, US of A., "has eased its hard line policy on shoplifting and is no longer prosecuting first- time thieves caught stealing goods worth less than $25.00.

If someone is a repeat offender the company will call police and prosecute. The company used to contact the authorities when someone was apprehended with $3.00 in stolen merchandise in their possession.

John Smiley spokesman for the company said: 'the change in policy will allow the retailer to focus on larger thefts and organized crime which accounts for most of the merchandise stolen.'

I contacted Andrew Pellletier, Wal-Mart Canada's Director of Corporate Affairs, who informed me that: 'they follow Canadian guidelines and turn over all suspected cases of theft to the police to investigate'.

I called, Canadian Tire, Loblaws, Zellers, Sears and A & P; the managers told me that shoplifters are apprehended regardless of the retail price of an item. You can have your photo taken and told that you are not welcome to enter upon the premises for one year. Those who ignore the stipulations can be charged with trespass.

Picture it, Friday night right after work on an empty stomach you are rushing to complete your shopping at your favourite supermarket. You rush down the aisle and grab a chocolate bar from the two-for-one special bin.

You devour the bar and keep the wrapper for the check-out and forget to get it scanned. Off you go to unload your groceries into the trunk of your car. Before you can open your car door a young man confronts you with the misdeed.

The security guard asks you to accompany him back to the store's office and wait for the police. It is way too late to pay for the Oh Henry bars. Believe it or not you are a thief in possession of stolen goods.

The Loss Prevention Officer gives you a form to sign that you are warned not set foot in the companies premises for one year. Months later you may get a letter from the firm's lawyers seeking hundreds of dollars in damages. If the payment is not forthcoming the retailer may commence legal procedures before a civil court for all costs incurred.

The cost to the community of sending along a City of London uniformed police officer to investigate a petty theft that takes two hours is $35.00 per hour plus the cost accruing to the Crown and court costs.

Come on you moan; a moment of indiscretion by an honest person who acts out of character and you are suddenly a bona fide thief.

The retail establishment has to be concerned with shoplifting but there should be some reality where the punishment fits the crime.

I have been part of the East London, St Leonard's Community Justice Circle where an impoverished/desperate single mother cried that she had been charged for stealing baby formula from a grocery store. Her children were hungry.

The largest retailer in the world, Wal-Mart USA has set new intelligent guide lines for petty theft that we can all contemplate.

Len Lesser

Len Lesser posts a report every week

You can email Len at lenlesser@hotmail.com