Employees tell boostore’s story

By Joelle McGinnis

Holmes Student Center Bookstore student employees said the incident on Jan. 21 in which four black students were accused of shoplifting was not about racism.

A letter prepared by several student bookstore employees stated they felt it was in the best interest of the bookstore to watch the students while they shopped because one of them had been involved in an incident the day before.

University Police reported the arrest of a person for shoplifting at the bookstore earlier during the week.

UP Officer John Hunter said he had been called to investigate a theft and was the first to approach the students on Jan. 21.

Employees stated in the letter the students became verbally abusive when asked for their student identification cards by Hunter.

The students then were taken to the bookstore office because it was an area off the sales floor and an appropriate place to work out the situation, employees stated in the letter.

The students continued verbally abusing the employees, refused to show their ID’s and gave Hunter false information in the store’s office while the male suspect was asked to empty his pockets.

NIU student Todd Ellis, the only male student accused in the incident, said Thursday, “I wanted to know why we were called into the office in the first place. I think I had a right to be upset.”

In the office, an employee said, “You people just want to create attention.” The letter stated the comment was made referring to the verbal abuse to the employees by the students and their behavior on the sales floor, not about blacks in general.

Ellis said he and the other students became upset after the comment was mae. “I know there were hot heads at the time,” and more verbal confrontations and confusion occured, he said.

Hunter said, “The situation was getting out of control and I don’t think I was out of line when I told everyone to sit down and shut up, because there were six or seven people all shouting at once.”

“The students were held only as long as necessary to determine if they had anything and then they were let go,” he said.

The four students each received apology letters signed by bookstore manager Stanley Shedaker Feb.2.

Ellis said the letter of apology was satisfactory and he has been assured a thorough investigation of the incident is being conducted.

However, Ellis said, “I have filed a complaint with the Affirmative Action against the bookstore as a whole.”

Hunter said, “The whole situation is out of hand.” He said UPs never have contact with most black studentsaat NIU. “It’s unfair that any time a black and a white student are involved (in an incident) it’s automaticaly a racist incident,” he said.

The situation has become a “black and white thing” because of the problem the bookstore has with shoplifting, Hunter said.

Bookstore employees said shoplifting has become a game to some students who enter the store in groups of two or more students and make rude, loud comments to caus a disruption and intimidate employees.

NIU Ombudsman Bertrand Simpson said employees might feel that way because “some black students take it upon themselves to play games (with bookstore employees) by picking up merchandise, walking around with it and not doing anything illegal.”

Hunter said the UPs are able to arrest a few shoplifters but because it is becoming “an impossible situation, the bookstore is losing money.” “I don’t think it’s (the situation) fair to the employees who try to cut down thefts to keep the costs from going up,” he said.

Bond revenue operations Director William Herrmann said the problem of shoplifting is becoming a phenomenon on many campuses. He said the problem has “increased dramatically” at NIU.

Shrinkage, an amount determined from shoplifting losses, internal losses and damage losses, doubled in 1987 from the previous year, he said.

Student Center Director Marlin Tenboer said bookstore shrinkage last year was $69,000 from inventory wholesale cost which is nearly $120,000 at retail cost.

Tenboer said he would wait until a later date to comment on the Jan. 21 incident.

Herrmann said, “We realize that there is a problem and we need a way to objectively confront (shoplifting suspects).”

Shoplifting at the bookstore eventually will cost students more in the long run, he said. To help keep student fees down, Herrmann said the university has begun to accept bids on a new security system for the bookstore.

The university is looking for a security system that is similar to the one in the library. NIU hopes to be able to have the system installed by the end of March, he said.

Herrmann said in the mean time all aspects of the Jan. 21 incident will be investigated objectivey. “We’re looking at students and employees equally, because both have certain rights that should be respected,” he said.

The university needs to look at the procedures currently being used for shoplifting and the judicial system, Herrmann said. A procedure then will be worked out which respects the students and employees involved, he said.

“It will take time to work through the problems and look at the concerns of studets and other parties affected,” Herrmann said.