Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Weird Things I Saw Working at Target -- TPS Report

I have always taken a certain amount of pride in my work ethic. From the time I was 11 years old, I would mow every lawn possible and shovel every driveway, for as much or as little as they wanted to pay me so long as they did pay. I would rake leaves, dig gardens, pick up cans from the street. I even collected bags and bags of pine cones once, gathering them for a lady who promised my friend Harold and I $20 a bag (she said she needed them for crafts). We had visions of untold riches as we scavenged neighbor yards and Gallagher Park until we filled 8 grocery bags until they were nearly ready to burst.

She ended up paying us $10 for the whole lot. What a rip!

Sadly, we did not have TPS reports.
I began with this because I don’t want you to think any less of me when I describe my next Weird Adventure at Target. As previously described, my first job at Target was as a cart attendant. Good times. However, after a time of doing that another position opened, one that did not require me to mop up puke or clean women’s restrooms. I could become a Target Protection Specialist. A TPS. It paid a little more for a lot less work.

It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

A TPS is basically a glorified Wal-Mart greeter or a low-budget security guard. My job was to stand in front of the store and watch for anyone who looked suspicious. That was it. I could also walk around the store once an hour to make my “presence felt.” I can only imagine the fear I inspired in the hearts of any would-be shoplifters as I strolled down the aisles, my very footsteps turning thieves into jelly. As Denzel said in Training Day, King Kong didn’t have sh-t on me.
Turning shoplifters into jelly!

But as easy as the job was, it kind of sucked. Leaning against a cart all day might sound fun and glamorous, but I am afraid to say that it is not. I was bored stiff. I actually fell asleep one day while standing, well, leaning against a cart, only to be awoken when a customer asked me something followed by “Sir, are you asleep?”

Um, no. . .
In order to stay awake, I would have to come up with ways to entertain myself. If the cart attendant was busy, or even if he wasn’t, I would go out to the lot to gather carts from the corral. To challenge myself, I would see how many carts I could push up the hill without losing any, a difficult trick since they had banned us from using bungee cords for safety reasons. My personal record was 17, which is a difficult feat as the front cart always wants to get away. The secret was to time it just right so that you could ram it back in place by crashing into the front door.

Despite being torturously boring, it sure beat working for a living, so I was happy to continue to do it. But matters improved when the store hired a new Assets Protection Specialist.

Yes, that is a real job title. An Assets Protection Specialist is a fancy Target phrase for a store detective, which is another fancy word for someone who watched for shoplifters while dressed in plain clothes. The other plain clothes employees were all nice, to varying degrees, but they didn’t have much use for a seventeen-year old kid. They spent most of their time goofing off without me. But when they hired Jason, my situation improved considerably. He was only a couple years older than me, and a fellow geek, so there was plenty to talk about—video games, movies, anything but work.

We hit it off on his first real day on the job. I saw someone who looked suspicious (meaning they were young—teenagers are much more likely to steal) and let him know. He ended up nabbing them for shoplifting a short time later. Catching someone stealing on his first full day wasn’t a bad thing, and he was grateful for the assist.

From there, we devised a system where he would be out on the floor while I would watch from the cameras. We got to be pretty good at nabbing people, and Jason’s numbers were more than satisfactory. I got to spend much less time leaning against carts and a lot more time doing things that didn’t make me fall asleep standing up. Not bad.

Our only job, period, was to catch people shoplifting. We really had no other responsibilities. So long as we kept a decent eye on the store and Jason kept his numbers up, we could spend the rest of the time doing nothing. Fridays in particular were the best day, because that was when the new magazines came out. To be fair, you never knew when you would spot a shoplifter in the pages of Electronic Gaming Monthly. There were also long lunch breaks and of course an hour-long break from taking breaks to watch Simpsons reruns. It was tough work.

Arrest this guy, will you?
But we still had to be ready when needed. However, there was one problem with catching shoplifters--we literally had NO TRAINING. We were basically given a pair of handcuffs and told that if you need these, use them. If some guy the size of a linebacker was pushing out a TV in a cart, it was our job to stop him. If someone pulled a gun on us—which did happen to Jason—then we were to duck. We were a liability case waiting to happen.

Still, we enjoyed catching people stealing. We got to pretend we were on Cops, taking down the bad guys one stolen Lil Kim CD at a time (for some reason people really liked stealing CDs from woman rappers like Kim and Foxy Brown). But it wasn’t all fun. Customers were one thing, but the amount of employee theft was truly staggering. Either through outright theft or merchandise passed to one of their friends in the checkout line, employees were robbing the place blind. Sadly, many of these people stealing were people you had gotten to know and like. Didn’t stop them. One by one, they left Target with a costly civil judgment to reimburse.

Aw crap, Target called again.
Arresting kids wasn’t much fun either.  Target’s policy was that if the item was over $5, the police were called. We didn’t always hold fast to that, but if a kid had an attitude problem, we usually did. However, we often hesitated because the cops would be downright rude about it, not wishing to have their donut break important murder investigation interrupted and the cops were often worse to deal with than the shoplifters.

So that brings me to being hit in the face with a pair of handcuffs. It was dull Saturday, and I was closing, stuck there until 10. Jason and I were judiciously attending to our duties, as always, leaving the electronics stockroom to make sure the video game new releases for the upcoming week had not been tampered with. We left the stockroom and walked around a corner to the sound of a clamshell package being torn into--someone was stealing a CD Discman, and not caring who heard them.

Being men of action, we sprung into duty. I ran back to watch him on camera while Jason masterfully followed the thief, using all of his stealth and stalking ability to go unseen. During this time, the thief had ripped open a pack of batteries, a curious move. But in a move that would prove to be a stroke of criminal genius, he placed two of the batteries into the Discman, throwing the rest of the package aside.

Jason followed him to the customer return area, where our master criminal attempted to return the Discman for store credit—see, his scheme was unraveling, as Target’s policy is to not allow a return without a receipt. Since he had no qualms about stealing what he wanted, store credit would do our criminal mastermind little good.

But his plan unraveled further. Another Target policy was that if someone had made too many returns without a receipt, they could not return anything else. This individual had hit the limit—no store credit. Rats! After arguing for some time, and showing the batteries in the Discman as proof that it was indeed his, he finally gave up. He walked to the doors to leave with the Discman in hand. Since Target’s rule was that you actually had to try to leave with the merchandise, this meant he was ours.

Jason had slipped into our office near the exit, and together we waited. We steeled ourselves to nab him, knowing that we had a dangerous criminal to tangle with. But he had tangled with the wrong two master protection specialists or whatever it was we were called.

Our friend was not a particularly big guy, but it was never fun having to take down an adult, man or woman. I was nervous, and Jason probably was too, seeing as together we probably didn’t even weigh 300 pounds.

He passed by the office, which meant he was leaving the store. So we stepped out and asked him to please join us inside. Surprisingly, this almost always worked, without incident. But not with this guy. He immediately began to fight with us, and Jason was tangled up with him in no time. Sensing my opportunity, I snapped a handcuff on him.

One handcuff.

Big mistake.
Seeing as I had no clue about what I was doing (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it), I let go when he struggled. Big mistake. If I had kept my hands on the one cuff attached to his wrist, he could’ve been my b-tch, and I could easily pull him to the ground until we snapped the other one. Letting him go was a major oops.   

How major?

The next thing I knew he was swinging at us. We ended up back in the store, and somehow I was grappling with him. He swung out with his fist and nailed me right in the forehead, with the loose cuff clanging against my dome.

Truth be told I really don’t remember what happened next, but I’ve watched it on video many, many times. I went into Hulk Hogan mode. I somehow worked my way behind him, with Jason struggling with him from the front, and with Jason assisting I basically lifted the guy over my head and slammed him down to the ground (WWF fans would know this move as a German Suplex). Jason snapped the other cuff on him, and that was that.

Now you might think to yourself that it would hurt to get hit in the forehead with a fist and a handcuff, but I never felt a thing. I’m not being tough here, I really didn’t. But it did open up a small cut. Now there’s a reason when pro wrestlers want to draw blood for a match they slice open their forehead—it looks really good. Someone told me that I was bleeding, so I brushed my fingers across my head and yep, I was, like a stuck pig. While Jason drug the guy into the office, I went off to clean my wound. But I may or may not have let out a little “woo” when I saw my forehead covered in blood in the mirror. OK, I didn’t, but who could blame me if I did?

To end a long story, we did find out he was considered an armed and dangerous felon, but decidedly not a bright one. I’m sure he was given a day in jail and was back out the next day, but for that one day, the streets of Omaha were safe thanks to the efforts of two humble Target Assets Protection Specialist Security Guard guys. 

But all in all, I don't think it was worth $7.50 an hour...

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