IN ONE of the shopping malls, my attention was caught by a dramatic scene. A security guard laid hands on two female high school students (in school uniform). He alleged that the two kids were taking with them two packs of chocolate bars and a bottle of lotion. They were trying to hide the items in their jackets while approaching the exit door. I heard some shoppers murmuring, “They are shoplifters.”

Our retail trade industry has a polite term for shoplifting, “inventory shrinkage.” That means that the goods have disappeared or shrunk from the total account inventory. Shrinkage refers to the losses due to shoplifting, employee theft, vendor fraud, and administrative error.

Shoplifters could be of two kinds: “boosters” or “heels” and “snitchers.”

Boosters are professional criminals who do careful planning and skillful execution. They are concentrating on expensive items that can be quickly converted to cash by prearrangement with a “fence” (dealer of stolen goods). Many could have heard of a pack of shoplifters in our province who are graduates in a “shoplifting academy” that could not be identified. Their “valuables” (underwear, T-shirts, expensive barong, lotion, pants, padlocks, laptops, cameras, etc.) are delivered to the “fences” who vend them in offices, schools, private houses, and in coffee shops.

Snitches are amateur shoplifters. They could be students who are tempted to shoplift some small articles because they have no money to buy them. They could be mothers who shoplifted a can of milk or a can of corned beef for her family. They are also shoplifters who do the act just for fun, or some are not even aware that what they did is a criminal act.

Actress Winona Ryder was sentenced to three years probation and 480 hours of community service, fined $11,300 and ordered to undertake drug and psychological counseling for shoplifting. She stole $5,560.40 worth of designer merchandise.

Again, many would say that this is happening because of poverty, low education… or this could be caused by “kleptomania,” a compulsion to steal. Someone may add that this is for adventure, excitement, need, greed or simply available opportunity or inadequate security. I have my sympathy to the offenders because sometimes they are brought to the interrogation rooms and ordered to remove their clothes… thinking that they have inserted small items in their private parts.

Vandalism is another barbaric act that gives eye sore to the beautification program of the government. Vandalism involves the willful destruction of property without the consent of the owner or agent of the owner. We remember the Vandals, a barbaric Teutonic tribe that sacked Rome in the fifth century. We are affected especially in the B-T-S Tourism District (Bacolod-Talisay-Silay).

We see vulgar words written in newly painted wall: “F_ck the f_cker!” “Rebellion not election!” “Be in drugs, not in sports!” “Election changes nothing!” These are the social messages written by anti-government groups or simply by drug addicts. Our churches and the government should not take this for granted. Something should be done. It could be “wanton vandalism” dedicated to the destruction of property without a purpose and produces no monetary gain.

The juveniles do it just for the hell of it or to make fun of people in the government or school officials. There is also “predatory vandalism” that leads to the thrashing or destroying of vending machines in order to steal their contents. Even in colleges and universities, a variation of predatory vandalism and theft exist. We call it “bibliotheft.” The students intentionally steal and destroy library reference materials.

We are so concerned with shoplifting and vandalism because these criminal acts may not be that big but they blot our tourism program, “Experience the Philippines.” If shoplifters are proliferating in our malls, we are painting a bad image on the youth, especially the students. Students in uniform caught shoplifting speak of the kind of training provided by their school. Insult is added to injury because we tolerate security guards to interrogate victims while they are naked. Safety nets should be provided to safeguard our youth offenders.

Our clean walls are graced with the unrequested graffiti or freelance artists or anyone who can afford a can of spray paint. Our police force should be augmented by our “barangay tanod” unit. We need more patroling, targeting known offender, developing logo intelligence files… and the government should have a program of repainting right away the walls made dirty by the vandals. This could be the work of the engineering department and tourism offices.

Negros Occidental is a land of sweet surprises. Let us start stopping small crimes here. Let us work together for the big surprise.