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AUTOZONE: Employee Theft, Coercion, and False Confessions

Tuesday, Mar. 11, 2014

Take the suspect to an isolated place. Make sure the conversation isn’t being recorded. Engage in small talk to build rapport. Commence interrogation. These steps, outlined in a manual used by loss prevention specialists to question employees expected of theft, are a common practice in the retail space. Employee theft costs American retailers $16 billion a year, and it’s difficult to stop. Rarely is there any physical evidence, only an imbalance in the books or missing merchandise. To address this, retailers are increasingly turning to internal investigations headed by specialists trained in police interrogation techniques. These interrogations include insisting that the company knows the suspect is guilty, pointing to “bulging files or videocassettes,” and an array of psychological tricks to get the confession. But these techniques are often too effective, resulting in a false confession from the employee. The interrogations are often held while the employee is “on the clock,” meaning leaving could result in losing their job, and the retailers don’t allow them to be videotaped. A slew of recent lawsuits brought against AutoZone have shined light on this problem, even revealing that one of the loss prevention specialist received confessions in 98% of his cases. Given the growing evidence of this problem, should retailers abandon the use of police interrogation techniques in their investigations?

  Kirk: We’ve always known there was a danger of false confessions when employees, criminals, or preschoolers are browbeaten by an overzealous questioner. Criminal investigators have addressed this by videotaping every interview with clear consequences for misconduct. Corporate investigations still operate in the dark with few protections for suspected employees. It’s time to bring the process to light and build in employee protections. Beware the investigator who finds fraud in 98% of his cases.

  Patrick: I understand the reluctance of retailers to acknowledge this problem. Employee theft results in significant losses, and having no other recourse, it’s easy to see why they defer to strong-arming their employees. But these interrogations aren’t addressing the problem, and the resulting lawsuits aren’t doing the retailers any favors. The losses in productivity from employee dissatisfaction and resentment are enough for these practices to be sidelined. Not to mention, happy employees don’t steal.

When Employees Confess, Sometimes Falsely (NY Times)

Framework for Thinking Ethically (Markkula Center)

 

NEXT STORY: Are Tech Firms Responsible for the Misuse of Their Products?

Comments Comments

Sarah said on Aug 27, 2014
Does anyone have a copy of the interrogation manual that Autozone used? I'd be very interested in going through it and comparing it to Reid's. - Like - 1 person likes this.
Michael & Andrew said on Dec 9, 2014
The Employees should be trusted to not steal and you should only have employees that you can trust, keeping your employees happy would help you i think because if an employee is happy with their job they wont put it on the line. If you suspect a employee of stealing you should always have him with a trusted employee to make sure he/she does not continue to steal from you. If the employee is stealing they probably need the money because otherwise they would try to do other things for the money without risking their job. - Like - 1 person likes this.
Michael & Andrew said on Dec 9, 2014
The Employees should be trusted to not steal and you should only have employees that you can trust, keeping your employees happy would help you i think because if an employee is happy with their job they wont put it on the line. If you suspect a employee of stealing you should always have him with a trusted employee to make sure he/she does not continue to steal from you. If the employee is stealing they probably need the money because otherwise they would try to do other things for the money without risking their job. - Like - 1 person likes this.
Brandon said on Dec 9, 2014
I disagree that employers should abandon the ?police interrogation? system for several reasons. First off, the important fact that an employee should be able to be confident enough in the fact that they didn't steal to convince their superior that they didn't. Second, employers should hire employees who seem honest and trust worthy. They should not hire someone who they have a bad feeling or suspicion about. Finally, regarding the interrogations, the interrogator should be persistent in their questions as well as in there suspicion that they stole until they know the truth. One easy solution to the whole problem presented before is more video cameras in the store (covering the cashiers and shelves), the stock room, and the loading dock (if available). This would cover the places where the suspect could steal so the employer and the investigator would have visual proof of the theft. If these cameras were obvious and covered as much space as possible, the thieves would be less inclined to steal. - Like - 1 person likes this.
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