Cops Are Real Cutups, But Shoplifters Aren't Laughing

Cardboard Corps Keeps An Eye On The Aisles At Grocery

February 25, 1991|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff writer

The new security guards at the Basics supermarket in Pasadena sure look great on paper. In fact, they are paper.

Well, cardboard, to be precise.

Officer Bill and Officer Pete, identical twins in New York City Police Department uniforms, have for about a month been fixing their steely blue-eyed gazes upon the Ritchie Highway store's aisles and checkout lanes. They stand cross-armed, handcuffs and nightsticks dangling from their equipment belts. Some say their eyes seem to follow as you walk by.

The store management hopes that the two 6-foot-tall cut-out cops will serve as a deterrent to would-be shoplifters.

"A sign company in Baltimore gave them to us as a test," said John Ryder, president of the 29-store Basics supermarket chain. "It's more psychological than anything else."

Store general manager Sharon Morningstar said a number of customers and some of the store employees have taken the paper cops for flesh and blood officers.

"You'd be surprised," Morningstar said. "People do make remarks: 'He scared me . . . Ithought he was real. . . . The girl back in deli said 'You finally got security.' For two hours she thought he was real."

Of course, that was from across the store. But even from close up, Morningstar said, some people say "it looks like his eyes follow you."

Morningstar said she moves the two cardboard officers around the store throughout the day. On Thursday afternoon, for example, Officer Pete was on duty in front of the store, near a display of snow shovels and rock salt. Officer Bill was back behind the bakery department. When she adds up receipts in the office, Morningstar said she usually positions acardboard cop near the door.

At night, Morningstar said, she places both officers in the front window to deter robbers.

"It's the cheapest employee I have," said Morningstar. "No breaks, never late, always on the job."

The guards appear in the store courtesy of The Baltimore Sign Co., which sent out a few of the cardboard cops gratis to its big customers to test the market. So far, so good, said company president Robert Trescott. After sending out 25 or 30 samples, hesaid, the company has orders for between 200 and 300 from supermarkets and drug stores along the East Coast. On the first run, the company produced 500 cardboard cops. They sell for $79 each.

Trescott, who's been in the sign business for more than 30 years, said he got the idea for The Guardian, as the product is called, from reading supermarket trade magazines and hearing his customers' chronic complaintsabout shoplifting.

The sign company already had produced about 500 cardboard soldiers for the Maryland National Guard's recruiting stations. He thought: Why not a cardboard blow-up photograph of a policeofficer? He figured it could be a more effective deterrent than the standard shoplifting warning signs the company has been printing for years.

Trescott decided to move on the idea after reading an article in the Wall Street Journal earlier this year about a Colorado supermarket franchise that was making its own cut-out security guards, ata cost of $500 apiece. Trescott knew he could do it cheaper.

The photograph used to make The Guardian portrays a mustachioed officer who bears a resemblance to former Philadelphia Phillies slugger Mike Schmidt.

"I don't know who the model was," said Morningstar, "but he's a nice-looking guy."

Kathie Schisler, the sign company's accounts coordinator, said the firm is considering expanding the line to include black, Hispanic and female officers.

The Journal article reported that the Colorado Springs store claimed shoplifting had fallenby as much as a third since the two cardboard officers went on duty.Morningstar said it's too soon to tell if Officer Bill and Officer Pete have been effective crime-stoppers at the Ritchie Highway store, the only store in the chain that employs the cardboard cops.

Ryderrefused to speculate if the paper cops would be ordered for Basics' 28 other stores in Maryland and Virginia.

At least one shopper checking out her groceries on Ritchie Highway last week was not terribly impressed with the authoritative presence of Officer Pete.

"I've seen him before," said the Severna Park woman, who would only give hername as Karen. "He kind of made me jump the first time I saw him. For a minute I thought there was somebody standing just out of my line of vision."

Asked if she thought Officer Pete or his partner, Bill, would discourage the average shoplifter, Karen said "Naaah. He's just cardboard. I think he's like a door lock. He's just keeping honestpeople honest."

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