Be prepared to defend yourself from detractors — I achieved a promotion just 5 months into my career as a Loss Prevention Manager. This did not sit well with the more tenured Managers in the department. As a result, my credibility and work ethic was tested by some of my peers. Due to my tendency to avoid confrontation, much of their criticism went unchallenged. In hindsight, I regret not sticking up for myself more. “The man who has anticipated the coming of troubles, takes away their power when they arrive.” — Seneca
As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Rey.
David Rey is a graduate of the University of Tampa with a Bachelor of Science in Criminology and has spent seventeen years overseeing the security operations at several internationally renowned flagship retail locations in New York City, including Tiffany & Co., Louis Vuitton, Bloomingdale’s, and Brooks Brothers. It is however, from his tenure at Macy’s Herald Square, that he has decided to chronicle his experiences in a memoir. By running the security operations in “One of the World’s Largest Stores,” David Rey has experienced a realm of Professional Shoplifting and Organized Crime, most of which the general public knows little about.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Growing up in Queens, New York during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s was challenging as New York City’s crime surge was taking place. My father was a New York City Transit Police Officer during the 1980’s and was assigned to patrol the subways, which at that time, was considered one of the most dangerous places in the city. The danger of policing in the New York City Transit System was clearly evident, as my father eventually had to retire due to an on-the-job injury as a result of an incident on the subway. As unfortunate as this was, my father’s passion for police work fascinated me. Though it was a dangerous job, the thrill of protecting the community from criminal wrongdoing seemed exciting. It was from this experience that I knew I was destined for a career in crime prevention.
When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?
Bo Dietl’s autobiography, The Bo Dietl Story, was a book that was always on display in the library of our living room when I was younger. This book was a personal favorite of my father’s and seemed to satisfy his passion for law enforcement, especially long after he retired. This autobiography of an exceptional police officer who put himself in harm’s way and made the most out of his career was already an all too familiar story in my household. In this story, a detective is working on a case that he eventually gets taken off of but still continues the investigation due to his passion for the job and desire to find the perpetrators. Similar to my father, his passion for law enforcement never waned, even after his retirement. The story further influenced my career aspirations.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
I mentioned in my memoir about the struggles I had during the early stages of my role as a Loss Prevention Manager at Macy’s Herald Square. I was given the responsibility of managing our Undercover Store Detectives. These are individuals who come to the store dressed in plainclothes and pose as shoppers. They blend in with the crowd with the purpose of catching shoplifters in the act. I had never done a job like this before nor had I ever worked in an environment where this kind of work existed but I was tasked with managing these individuals. How do you manage people who are doing a job you’ve never done before? Well I certainly learned how to the hard way. I made the mistake of trying to lead by example and catch shoplifters myself. With no prior training or experience, I failed miserably and my novice attempts were as clear as day to my direct reports. Licking my wounds, I decided I would leave the shoplifting apprehensions to my staff while I focused on more effective leadership tactics such as identifying and rewarding high performers.
Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?
Most people associate organized crime with mobsters, the mafia or drug cartels. Very little is known or reported about the underworld of Organized Retail Crime. A world that breeds certain dangers within some of the most intimidating yet remarkable retail landscapes. With Organized Retail Crime emerging in the news as of recently, it was important for me to share this rarely seen world with the general public. When journalists do cover these stories, they tend to interview law enforcement officials for comment. While law enforcement does work hard to combat professional shoplifters, they are not the first line of defense. Loss Prevention and Asset Protection professionals within major retail locations, especially flagship locations, are the ones in the trenches, confronting and apprehending members of Organized Retail Crime. From using their own children and/or recruiting children on the street to their clever use of burglary tools that helps them facilitate these thefts, it is my hope that this memoir serves as an introductory piece that puts Organized Retail Crime in the public spotlight.
Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
In my memoir, I share the very heartbreaking story of a shoplifter that was apprehended in Victoria’s Secret flagship store across the street from Macy’s Herald Square. This case was well documented and reported throughout national and local news because the shoplifter was found to be in possession of a dead fetus when loss prevention professionals were searching her bags after the apprehension. Later it was found that this shoplifter had intentionally killed her newborn baby and had intended to bury it somewhere but decided to shoplift at Victoria’s Secret first. It was also determined that this was not the first time this individual had killed a newborn baby of hers. As difficult as it can be to hear a story like this, it does put into perspective how dangerous the people we apprehend for shoplifting can be at times. It also helps make the point of how important the profession of Loss Prevention is. It should give peace of mind to everyone that besides the police, there are other subgroups of individuals such as the men and women of the Loss Prevention profession, who help ensure their safety and quality of life.
What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?
In the very first pages of my memoir, I touch on this topic. In the past, when discussing my profession and the world of Organized Retail Crime with people I just met, I started to take notice of the genuine fascination and intrigue people had. The big epiphany finally came to me when I was talking to a personal trainer at my gym about my line of work, to which he responded, “Dude, that’s fascinating. I don’t think I ever met anyone who does what you do.” At that point I thought to myself, “Why am I not sharing this rarely observed world with the rest of the general public?” Thus, this sudden realization served as the driving force behind my initial efforts to create a memoir about my career combatting Organized Retail Crime.
Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
My memoir was released last month, so the opportunity to inspire and impact others has just begun. While I had stated that my goal is to bring Organized Retail Crime into the public spotlight, it is also my hope that the brave men and women who are dangerously tasked with protecting the employees, customers and assets of retail establishments everywhere, gain well deserved recognition from this literary work. Successfully investigating and apprehending professional shoplifters is certainly not for everyone. It is not a lucrative career choice, the work-life balance is not ideal (especially during the holiday season) and depending on which retail location you are working out of, the job could be very dangerous. Yet there are many who do this job and do it exceptionally well. May my memoir bring much earned respect to those who excel in this line of work.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Questions such as these tend to get me on my political soapbox. As I wrote this memoir, it was important for me to be mindful of any rhetoric that may make the book come across to the reader as being politically charged. While we have enough talking heads on primetime news networks serving as political agitators every night, I wanted to ensure I didn’t continue the trend. Looking at the problem in the best possible fair and balanced lens I can, the three issues that are in need of some serious adjustment as it relates to Organized Retail Crime are rehabilitation, bail reform and police funding.
Many shoplifters we apprehended were repeat offenders. One reason for this is because the criminal justice system in New York does a very poor job of rehabilitating criminals. So if the justice system doesn’t help reform criminals then I guess they just incarcerate them, right? No Sir! Due to bail reform laws, professional shoplifters are quickly released back into the general public to alleviate jail overcrowding. With no plan to rehabilitate criminals and no plan to incarcerate them, many shoplifters continue their illegal activity without consequence. Adding insult to injury, the disbandment of the anti-crime unit of the NYPD as a result of the police defunding movement has retail establishments feeling the effects of lawlessness brought on by limited police resources. Genuine and proven rehabilitation programs, the abolishment of bail reform and the refunding of the NYPD would help make a serious dent in the armor of the Organized Retail Crime industry.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I feel many of us have seen that image on the internet of the “boss versus leader” comparison. The top half of the image is labeled “boss” and shows a person sitting on top of pillars that are being tugged by what seems to be his/her workers. The person is pointing his/her arms as to direct the workers on which direction to tug him/her. The bottom half of the image is labeled “leader” and shows the same person but this time in the front of the line, tugging the pillars along with his/her workers. For me, this image defines what leadership is better than words can. It takes minimal effort to bark orders and lead by authority. This approach falls in line with the idea that the higher up you get, the less you should have to work. This approach usually results in direct report disengagement and high turnover. Leading by example is the best way for a manager to show how he/she measures success. This usually leads to better morale throughout the workplace.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Be prepared to defend yourself from detractors — I achieved a promotion just 5 months into my career as a Loss Prevention Manager. This did not sit well with the more tenured Managers in the department. As a result, my credibility and work ethic was tested by some of my peers. Due to my tendency to avoid confrontation, much of their criticism went unchallenged. In hindsight, I regret not sticking up for myself more. “The man who has anticipated the coming of troubles, takes away their power when they arrive.” — Seneca
- Work-Life Balance is not a thing — in retail, working nights, weekends and holidays is a must. At Macy’s Herald Square, the world’s largest store, those holidays also include Thanksgiving. Due to the Thanksgiving Day Parade, there was no chance of seeing your family on this holiday. Add to the fact that the store is also open 24 hours the entire week before Christmas and you might as well just send your friends and family a postcard during the holiday season.
- Make sure you’re in shape. Physical fitness is a must — I emphasized in my book, the dangers that come with apprehending members of Organized Retail Crime and for good reason. Physical altercations with shoplifters was almost a daily occurrence. I would come home many nights, take off my shirt and be astonished at what I saw in the mirror. Deep bruising, cuts and swelling all over my chest, shoulders, arms, etc. Having the ability to physically defend yourself as well as having the stamina and endurance to handle all the running involved in responding to calls is critical in this line of work.
- Don’t be sensitive to all that you bear witness to — Seeing professional shoplifters use young children as props for their crimes, seeing people use their own kids to help facilitate their thefts, the violence that would lead to serious injury to our staff, all were common occurrences but tough to all take in if you are not ready for it. I was certainly very green to this underworld when I first started but by the time my tenure at Macy’s Herald Square was over, I was desensitized by the sheer violence and deviant behavior associated with professional shoplifting.
- Success is all about the numbers — in retail, sometimes your success is measured by qualitative factors and sometimes it is measured by quantitative factors. At Macy’s Herald Square, your success is almost solely based on quantitative metrics. It is completely numbers driven, how your results look on paper will determine your success. There was a lot of pressure to maintain those numbers. It was a “what have you done for me lately” approach. No matter how good your numbers look one week, they better look just as good or even better the following week. As former NBA Head Coach Phil Jackson once said, “you’re only a success at the moment you perform a successful act. You have to do it again.”
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
This question resonates with me because I am a big quote buff. So much so that each chapter of my memoir begins with a quote that sets the tone for the plot. One quote that is not in my book but is a quote that I live by is attributed to Milton Berle. “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”
Throughout my career, I aspired to achieve advancement within each organization I managed for. I strived to ensure my success was measurable enough to merit promotions and social mobility but as hard as I worked, sometimes nothing I did seemed good enough. Due to corporate politics, egos, recessions and other obstacles, opportunity didn’t knock as much as I expected it to. Many people in this situation tend to stay the course hoping it will eventually change, getting bitter and disgruntled along the way. Others overcome this hurdle by “building a door.” Creating my own opportunities by writing a memoir and not depending on an organization to determine my success, was one of the best doors I ever built.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would most certainly want to have a private meal with Judge Judy. Her reputation for being a Judge with an attitude overshadows the fascinating person that she is. She is an immensely intelligent and confident person. Her astute wit and dominance she displays in the courtroom is second to none. I always aspired to have the confidence and cleverness she projects. I also must admit to using some of her clever lines when addressing people at work. For those who have only seen the mean-talking side of her during one her shows, I urge you to look up a motivational interview of her whether it be on YouTube or Instagram or whatever platform may have it. There you will see someone who has it all figured out. A gifted expert who can move you to chasing your dream,s regardless of what age you are.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can follow me on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/davidrey819/ where I share the latest strategies and trends in the effort to fight Organized Retail Crime. Larceny on 34th Street — The Podcast will be up and running in the next couple of months, so be sure to listen to that. As Organized Retail Crime continues to emerge in the news, lots of information I share in my podcast and on social media will be relevant to the existing state of affairs. I look forward to sharing this rarely seen world with all of you. I hope you enjoy hearing about it as much as I love telling the story.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Social Impact Authors: How & Why Author David Rey Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.