For the week ending 24 January 2004 / 1 Shevat 5764

Virtual Evidence

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
Become a Supporter Library Library

Question: As the manager of an inner-city supermarket I am faced with the usual problem of shoplifting. When we catch someone and call the police to arrest him the law enforcement officers insist that we give them the stolen item to be used as evidence in court. The probability of ever getting this item back is very low. Must I comply with their request even at the cost of losing the item?

Answer: In Torah law a thief can be convicted on the basis of the incriminating testimony of witnesses without the need for such "evidence". But if you want police cooperation in your community you have no choice but to go along with their requests and it is probably worth sacrificing the item in order to eliminate the danger of a shoplifter you may not catch another time.

But there may be a solution to your problem. A Brooklyn supermarket owner recently told me a story about a fellow who stood at the checkout counter with blood running down his forehead. An emergency call was made for paramedic help but it was soon discovered that this fellow was hiding a frozen steak he had pilfered and concealed under his hat. When the police came and took away the thief and the steak the owner decided on a new strategy. He installed a Polaroid camera at the counter to photograph the stolen item and he now offers the picture taken to the police as "virtual evidence" while retaining the real thing.

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