McClatchy's America

How Facebook caught a thief

Screenshot from surveillance video at The Pumphouse bar and grill in Wichita, Kan.
Screenshot from surveillance video at The Pumphouse bar and grill in Wichita, Kan. Courtesy of The Pumphouse

For a business owner who’s been the victim of a theft, justice is satisfying.

But as owners of an Old Town bar are learning, Facebook justice is immediate.

On Friday night, the head pizza maker at The Pumphouse, 825 E. Second St., was asked by a customer who was standing at the bar with two other people for a glass of water. He rounded the corner to get it, and when he returned, his previously full tip jar was empty.

He asked the customers where the money went, then he went to get security, and the woman who had been standing at the bar left.

But the whole incident was captured by surveillance video, as are most events at the bar. The woman can be seen clearly in the footage, as can the moment when she dips her hand into the tip jar and pockets the money.

On Saturday morning, Pumphouse general manager Daron Adelgren posted the clip of the incident on the business’s Facebook page. The crime had irked him, he said, because his 61-year-old pizza maker is a good employee who works hard for his tips.

Within two hours, the video had been viewed 13,000 times and had been shared another 700 times. Facebook commenters were indignant.

It also took only two hours for the woman in the video to return to the bar and apologize. She said she’d taken only $5 but she returned $15, Adelgren said. She seemed embarrassed and remorseful.

The pizza maker accepted her apology – and the $15. The two hugged, and Adelgren removed the video from the business’s Facebook page. (He did, however, enter the woman’s name onto a list of people who are banned from the bar.)

We’re not trying to embarrass people, but if this gets people to know that they can’t come to the Pumphouse and act like animals or steal or vandalize or whatever, then it is beneficial.

Daron Adelgren, Pumphouse general manager

“We’re not trying to embarrass people, but if this gets people to know that they can’t come to the Pumphouse and act like animals or steal or vandalize or whatever, then it is beneficial,” Adelgren said.

This is not the only time the Pumphouse has used Facebook to expose poorly behaved patrons or petty crimes taking place in the bar, Adelgren said.

A few months ago, a male patron stole a woman’s cellphone at the bar. Managers found the incident on the surveillance footage and posted it on Facebook. The perpetrator called the bar, begging to have the video taken down. He was afraid he’d lose his job.

Adelgren’s advice to the man: Don’t steal, and you won’t lose your job.

They’ve posted two other incidents as well. In one, a man tears a sign with a Shockers logo off the wall and throws it on the ground. In another, a patron flops himself over the bar, grabs a bottle of Crown Royal, crams the pour spout in his pocket and contemplates taking a swig. Just then, he looks up and notices the camera. He smiles sheepishly, points at the camera, then returns the bottle.

In the end, the only thing the man took was the $3 spout, Adelgren said. He didn’t call the police, he said, because it seemed like a relatively insignificant matter.

“Facebook justice seems to be more effective than any other avenue we’ve found so far,” Adelgren said. “It seems like the public shaming aspect of it is very successful for us here.”

Capt. Doug Nolte of the Wichita Police Department said he wasn’t familiar with the details of the Pumphouse case since no report was filed and couldn’t comment on it specifically. But he said it’s always a good idea for businesses to report crimes, no matter how petty, in case a pattern is developing that police might notice.

Otherwise, he said, video is a helpful tool in police work. The department posts video of criminals in action on social media all the time, he said, and it can help them catch suspects more quickly.

“We’re seeing more and more of that,” he said. “Video technology is so inexpensive now that homeowners have video cameras and you can get an alarm system that has video. And it’s helpful for us because we can track down the suspects.”

Denise Neil: 316-268-6327, @deniseneil

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