NYC Store's Vigilante Justice Against Shoplifters May Be Extortion, Or Maybe Not

The NYT says that a local independent supermarket in Queens has an interesting way of dealing with shoplifters. If they catch you, the store’s security guards take your ID, photograph you and then fine you. If you refuse to give up the money (usually $400, according to the manager), the workers threaten to post your picture and call the police.

“We usually fine them $400,” said the manager told the NYT. “If they don’t have the money, then we usually hold their identification and give them a chance to go get it.”

Is this legal? The Times says… maybe?

New York State law allows “shopkeepers’ privileges” that fall somewhere between the police and a citizen’s arrest. The law also details “civil recovery statutes,” by which retailers may use the threat of a civil lawsuit to recover substantial settlements for even minor thievery. But threatening to report that someone has committed a crime can be considered a form of extortion.

Local community advocates say that the policy violates shoppers’ civil rights.

The store says the policy works, legal or not.

“Two weeks ago, a woman tried to take two bags of grapes worth maybe $10,” the manager told the Times, explaining that the woman claimed to have no money to pay the fine.

“She came back with eight new $50 bills,” he said.

Stores’ Treatment of Shoplifters Tests Legal Rights [NYT](Thanks, Alexa!)