BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) - Your afternoon shopping trip is interrupted by a store clerk who says you stole something. You profess your innocence and you have none of the store's merchandise. But the police are called anyway and you find yourself with a date before a judge.
It all started with a caller to a weekly radio show put on by the True Bethal Baptist Church. The caller said she was almost arrested because a store clerk did not see were she placed an item of clothing she tried on and then decided not to buy. More calls came in with stories of people being prosecuted when they did not posess any stole items.
The Reverend Darius Pridgen asked members of his congregation to look into the complaint. "And as we did the kind of preliminary investigation...we are being told that basically the police are a taxi service. So if a store swears out a complaint...that they just have to process you...which starts a criminal history of a person...who nothing has been found."
The group Justice 4 All helped arrange a meeting between the community and the Cheektowaga Police Department. The high concentration of retail outlets along Walden Avenue is a short hop for shoppers coming from the city.
Cheektowaga Police brought in a loss prevention officer from a local store. He stated "I have been in loss prevention for seven years and I have apprehended at least 400 people and I have not stopped one person that didn't have merchandise on them."
He also said that stores without trained security people could cause problems for people. Meeting organizers would like to see cops... called to transport shoplifters...investigate the charges before they agree to process the arrests.
Roger Penn, chairman of the group Justice 4 All, thinks the meeting made progress "It's a start for everybody...the stores...the Cheektowaga police...the residents of Buffalo. So everybody is starting right now at stage one and hopefully everybody will be on the same page in the future."
Some in the crowd are worried that racial profiling is behind the increasing number of complaints in the African American community. The group does want retailers to understand that they are compiling complaints. Any store that makes accusations without evidence...will be the subject of protests.