You can read the news story and the police report. In short summary, loss prevention workers Poulsen, Ray and Richins caught a fellow stealing a computer. They stopped him at the door, took him to the loss prevention office and were joined by assistant manager Stewart. Once everyone had crowded into the small room, the shoplifter -- a convicted felon named Trent Allen Longton -- drew a pistol, put it to Stewart's back and demanded to be released.
No one was able to shoot Longton to the ground, since Walmart policy disarms its employees.** So the workers took the thief's gun away from him and sat on him until the police showed up. In terms we've used here before, they acted violently enough soon enough for long enough to end the threat.
They did not panic and decide that they were helpless victims. Nor did they allow this armed criminal to flee into the crowded store it was their job to protect, there to threaten or harm or abduct someone else. That the circumstances seem not to have given them any other real options -- as one employee describes it, there really wasn't anywhere for the four to flee even if they had wished to -- makes their actions no less valiant or correct. Many are those who might not have reacted so well. Not that these four need me to validate them, but given the available descriptions, I'd say their actions were tactically and morally perfect.
And so, you reasonably ask, what was Walmart's reward to these heroic folks? Are they even now being whisked to the Bentonville headquarters via private jet,*** there to be honored for their service, perhaps to be awarded the Sam Walton Medal for Valor?**** Will they get a lifetime membership to Sam's Club? Would you believe a free chewy pretzel?
No, none of this. Instead, Walmart gave all four employees some time off. Well, more accurately, they gave all four employees forever off. Walmart fired them all. Walmart shill, er, spokesman Dan Fogelman put it this way:
We appreciate the intentions demonstrated by our associates in this situation, but the actions taken put their safety -- and potentially the safety of our customers and other associates -- in jeopardy. In their roles within the store, they were aware of our expectations regarding safety and, unfortunately, their actions have led to them no longer working for the company.The first sentence contains a lie. It has to be a lie because no human being capable of speech could be that dumb. The employees' actions didn't increase the danger to the others in the store. Once Langton produced the gun, and given the options available to them, the loss prevention people were right to defend themselves, disarm the bad guy and contain him away from others he might have attacked.
But a lie from a fellow in Fogelman's position is no big deal. What's really foul is that last unctuous, passively evil clause: "[U]nfortunately, their actions have led to them no longer working for the company."
Bad enough that cowardice is evidently Walmart corporate policy. Worse that Walmart "associates" -- even the ones who exchange heroism for minimum wage -- are disposable. What stinks worst of all is that Walmart's cowardice is so complete that it cannot even take responsibility for its own actions in firing these people. Don't blame the company, it's just "unfortunate" that these employees' actions somehow "led to them no longer working for the company."
The fact is that Walmart expects its loss prevention people to use "reasonable force" to detain shoplifters, unless and until the shoplifter produces a weapon, at which point the employees are supposed to "disengage." Although that policy is desperately flawed on about three obvious bases, let's let it lie for now. Because the policy isn't the problem this time. The problem is Walmart's mechanical application of the policy and its struthious disregard of the circumstances -- and of the effect on the lives of four people. That's management by cowardice, plain and simple.
Still, I have to believe that Stewart, Ray, Poulsen and Richins won't be long out of work. Surely Layton, Utah must be home to at least one employer who values something more than low prices.
*Julius Caesar, Act 2, Scene II, Wm. Shakespeare.
** Repeat Robert's Rule with me now: "Gun-free zones aren't"
*** Walmart's private fleet is the largest of any company.
**** No such medal exists, although Sam was the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Bush 41 in 1992.