Talking Down Gunmen and Breaking Up Fights: The Life of a Supermarket Security Guard

Finding the lifeless body of a homeless person next to the supermarket is never easy, even the third time it happens.
March 15, 2016, 3:15pm

Photo via Flickr

This article originally appeared on VICE France.

I've gotten used to thieves. Despite what you might believe, most people who steal something from the supermarket are the types you'd see around and think of as "responsible adults." It's mostly the grown up people, who don't look like they're in dire need of anything, who steal stuff. Young people just steal a bottle of whiskey before going to a party. I know that, because I'm the guy who's waiting for them on their way out, with my Belgian Shepherd. I'm 25, and I've been a security guard for five years now.

It started with my love of dogs. I wasn't great at school, and I didn't like it very much, so when I graduated, I went looking for something I could do that I would love. That's why I studied dog breeding and took classes to become a security guard. After 105 hours of training, I got my license—a card that I have to renew every five years. A guard needs to know that he or she doesn't have the right to search anybody and that self-defense is only legal if it's proportional to the attack. You also have to have a clean record. That became a requirement for security guards in France in 2008, which made it possible to weed out the guys who are only in it to start a fight, and opened the job up to a lot of women.

I was almost immediately hired by a security agency in Brittany, and now, I work in a supermarket next to the train station of Lorient. I've seen everything you'd expect a security guard to see—from a guy shitting in an aisle to a well-dressed doctor stealing duck breasts during the holiday season. I could see him acting fishy on the security camera, but he always passed through the detector without a beep. It took me about four months to realize he was hiding the duck breasts under his hat.

In the beginning, it can be difficult to deal with catching people stealing food. When you see a good person simply being hungry, you just let him or her go. It's the humane thing to do, plus the owner of a supermarket is generally insured for these types of losses. But you need to be able to distinguish between one thing and the other. The other kind of thieves you could scare a little sometimes, so that they'll let you search them even though that's not allowed. There is a protocol for shoplifting, but you have to decide when and how you want to enforce it.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

But I'm not just there to catch people stealing food. Finding the lifeless body of a homeless person next to the supermarket is never easy, even the third time it happens. There's a psychiatric hospital nearby and some patients come out in the afternoon to drink. The combination of alcohol and their medication gets them in a bad state. So many fights have broken out during the day, just because people were drunk. I've lost count a long time ago.

This one time, the day after I had chased away two guys from the train station, they took their revenge while I was out with my girlfriend. They saw me leaving a restaurant and immediately jumped me. I didn't file a complaint, but it was clear that I should never again see them on the job. One of the principles of the job is to never live close to where you work because you don't want people to see you out of your uniform. Unfortunately, I didn't have a driving license at the time, so I didn't have much choice.

I've had to dodge a knife, and I've had to face a man who took out a gun and started threatening people. He left without shooting anyone, fortunately. But he was shot by the police when they caught him.

People sometimes say that nobody steals more than a security guard, and that's partly true. There are a lot of temptations when you can access any part of the shop and know where all the cameras are. When you bring money from the cash registers to the safe at the end of the day, you're holding tens of thousands of dollars in your hands. That could give anyone ideas—not just people on minimum wages, like us.

Photo via Flickr

Security guards usually have a good relationship with the police, and sometimes, we'll make small deals with them. I've photographed people in front of the supermarket on the police's request, even though that's forbidden in France due to image laws. But they return the favor: I was once attacked by a man out of nowhere, and I broke a finger in the fight that ensued. I received six days of temporary disability benefits because of that, but a police officer arranged with the doctor to extend it to eight days. For less than eight days, the man who attacked me would only get a fine, but with eight days, it's an offense. It's the minimum number of days for the guy to be charged by the criminal court.

Sometimes, I wonder if I should be doing this kind of work, risking getting stabbed for minimum wage. The people I deal with are often better equipped than I am—I can only dissuade people, I can't search them or touch them. In a way, security guards are underpaid cops—we lack resources to work well and have to cover our own equipment. I'd like to be able to do more, especially after the attacks in Paris. But people tell me that in order to make a difference in that field, I'd have to move to Paris. That, I could never do. I was raised next to the sea. In Paris, I'd be lost.

Flamen Keuj is on Twitter.