One of the more unpleasant
truths about organisms with brains is that they canít be trusted.
Well, perhaps thatís a little harsh.
Itís been four years, but Iím probably still upset that my faithful
dog, Waldo, whom I trusted 100 percent, bolted from his fenced pen and
headed for Alpo World, never looking back.
Fortunately, people are much more
trustworthy than mangy mutts.
Itís just that itís not wise, as a
business owner and employer, to trust everyone 100 percent. Iíve been
burned too many times, not only by dogs, but by people.
So precautions are taken. It can take
many forms, and one of the most controversial is electronic surveillance.
As a great defender of an individualís
right to privacy, I consider the use of cameras to spy on the activities
of employees in the workplace absolutely despicable.
I also have 24 of them in use at the
moment, thank you.
And not only is Big Brother watching,
heís recording. Every move, every slipÖrecorded for posterity and/or
just spent $9,000 in the past few weeks to upgrade the surveillance system
in our retail stores. (Every time I spend money on security, it reminds me
of the Butch Cassidy line. When told that Mr. Harriman of the Union
Pacific Railroad was hiring the highest-priced lawmen to hunt him down,
Butch said "If heíd just pay me what heís paying to keep
me from stealing from him, Iíd stop stealing from him.")
Unfortunately, it doesnít work that
way. There is a temptation, especially in a cash business such as retail,
to take advantage of the situation. While the overwhelming majority of our
employees are worthy of great trust, there is invariably a bad egg or two,
or three, that need to be watched at all times.
The old camera system could
record only one station at a time, leaving managers in a quandary as to
who should be recorded, and the bad egg employees playing the odds,
realizing the chances were slim that it would be them.
The upgrade allows for eight cameras to
be recorded simultaneously for a 24-hour period, covering all sales
stations as well as the office and warehouse. All employees now know their
actions involving cash are being recorded at all times.
The rest of the cameras are spread
throughout the stores, aimed at the general shoplifting public.
I could have spent even more money,
buying 16-camera recorders and time-lapse recorders that can tape up to
336 hours on one eight-hour cassette. But it sounded like an invitation
for quick-change artists.
So I settled for the basic
all-intrusive model. Then for a paltry sum I had the whole system wired
from the main office, where the recording is done, to my nearby office,
where I could do some plain old spying.
Now that may seem distasteful, but
consider the results. In the first week of operation, I took a break from
my really important work and glanced over at the monitor. Needing a bit
longer break from my really important work, I began flipping through the
The business, I thought with a sigh of
relief, was continuing to operate smoothly. Then, just as I was thinking
of another diversion from really important work, I saw it.
On camera 12, an unsuspecting shopper
looked around, and with no one in sight stuffed the merchandise he was
holding down the sleeve of his jacket.
Aha! I had him. The scumbag was mine.
The camera investment was paying off. While put in primarily to deter
employees from wrongdoing, I was getting a bonus by nailing a shoplifter.
Not only that, I could justify the expense of having it wired to my
My heart racing, I knew I had only
moments to get out of my office and into the store before he exited with
the goods. I jumped out of my chair and immediately screamed in sheer
In all the excitement, I had forgotten
I had severely sprained my ankle a few days earlier and could barely walk.
Withering in pain, I fumbled for the
phone to intercom somebody, anybody, and tell them Big Brother was
incapacitated and could not act. Naturally, no one immediately answered.
He was getting away. I began flipping
through all 24 cameras before, miraculously, picking the shoplifter up
again on Camera 22.
Isnít technology wonderful Ė
I got to watch him walk out the door.