What follows is the email exchange between the Delmar chief of police and I after the incident described. The Town manager never responded.
to chief, townmgr.delmar
Yesterday, the management of the Delmar Food Lion accused me of stealing, held me without cause, and ordered the police to execute their company policy. I believe there is an important distinction between a company's policy and the law. Failure to know a company's standard procedures should not jeopardize my reputation or my freedom.
The shortest version of the story is that I paid to rent a rug cleaning machine and left the store. The clerk who rented it to me didn't have permission (or something like that) to conduct the transaction. The Food Lion manager blocked my car, took the machine from it and told me the police were on their way because I'd stolen the item. I responded by calling the police to protect me as well as my recent purchase from the Food Lion manager as he still was preventing me from leaving. A short while later, the clerk who sold it came out to say that I in fact had paid for the rental. At that point we were joined by another manager.
When your officer arrived, he listened to them explain how their company policy prevented them from renting this piece of equipment out without certain paperwork being filled out. The officer then asked me for my drivers license, so he could take down my name, address and license number. Before providing it, I asked if he would be taking the Food Lion management names, to which he responded, "Oh, I know Wade," indicating one of the two managers present. This I took as a clear signal that I would not be treated fairly for the rest of the incident. Whether because of the officer's relationship with "Wade" or the perceived pettiness of the entire affair, I was correct. I attempted to make an explanation but was ignored.
The officer told me that I had to either go in and sign the paperwork that Food Lion required or go in and demand a refund. I cannot stress to you the depth of how inappropriate this was. Nor can I explain completely how humiliating it is to be detained by a store clerk, or how infuriating it is to be marginalized by an officer in my own town (I've lived here since 1996) because he is not on a first name basis with me. I declined to do either, saying I would work it out with the credit card company (clearly, I will never go anywhere near the Food Lion plaza again).
I asked if I could file a complaint against Food Lion because they held me inappropriately and because they went into my car and removed an item for which I had paid. The officer said it was their property and no wrong had been done.
Setting aside how stupid I feel to even have to write about being accused of stealing a rug cleaner, I think it is important to note the officer's preference for Food Lion store policy over reason and responsibility. Later in the conversation, the officer gave me to understand he regularly had to come to Food Lion. If Food Lion has chosen to tax town police resources rather than hire private security to enforce its company policy, it is worth the town's investigation.
The officer said the incident report would be available by Monday, Sept. 13 (because he had a lot to do, he was investigating a robbery among other things). I just want you to know I'll be by to pick up a copy, not only as part of the packet I'll be addressing to Food Lion, but also to ensure that at least all parties are identified and it is clear I was falsely accused of stealing. If the officer cares to explain why he felt it necessary to enforce Food Lion corporate policy, that's fine, but it is important that in no way am I implicated as having done anything wrong. I work with children for my living, and my reputation is important to me as is a clean criminal record. I am appealing to you, Chief, to make sure the officer's cozy relationship with "Wade" doesn't jeopardize my current and future employment. I did nothing wrong and was treated like a criminal, then, when it was clear I was in the right, I was marginalized by the very institution I should be able to count on to protect me.
On the other side, all of the Food Lion employees involved were inept and unnecessarily aggressive. I believe it is because they had great confidence in their personal relationships and the preferential treatment they get from the Delmar Police Department. I suspect this is why they are confident in making wild accusations rather than having discussions with people they fear might have stolen from them.
Ms. Bynam-King I'm appealing to you to put this incident before the civic body governing police conduct. If Food Lion really calls the police so regularly that all of the officers are on a first name basis with all of the managers, clearly there is a problem. I could have been unfairly arrested yesterday because I was furious and humiliated. My temptation was to demand the officer take their names and license numbers, as he had taken mine, but I understand that that would have ended in my arrest. I shouldn't have to risk arrest to demand fair treatment by my town police. It would be interesting to know how often calls to Food Lion end with only resistance to arrest charges being filed. I expect it is a shocking number.
Thanks to both of you for your time and consideration.
Chief Harold Saylor<email@example.com>
to me, townmgr.delmar
I want to thank you for taking the time to make aware of this situation. I can tell by the length of the email and your passion in the writing that you feel you were treated unfairly. I am sorry you feel that way. If the roles were reversed and it was me I can see how it would be extremely embarrassing. That said, The police get called to civil disputes all the time. Once we determine that it is a civil dispute and not a criminal complaint we notify both parties that it is not a criminal matter, we take the information for our report and clear the scene. It is not unusual for police officers to know the employees and managers of all the businesses in town. At know time because of their relationship would an officer be biased in the performance of their duty. I not only agree with this relationship, but I encourage it as part of our Community Policing philosophy Thanks for your time. If you have any further questions please feel free to contact me. Chief Harold E. Saylor