This past week, San Francisco became the venue and witness for one of the most bizarre and spectacular non-story news stories in a long while. And the participants are about as mundane and typical as you could imagine: a shoplifting crackhead, disaffected retail employees, and overeager police.
I am speaking, of course, of the Starbuck’s Bomb Scare.
This is what likely happened: last Monday afternoon, a homeless guy walked into a Starbuck's, bums a bag of some used coffee grounds, supposedly for gardening purposes, and asks to use the bathroom. Homeless guy uses bathroom and leaves, but leaves a broken flashlight, which he found in the street, in the shitter. The homeless guy picked up the flashlight thinking it might be a good club, but changes his mind after thinking about it, so he leaves it. He then goes into a Circuit City and tries to use the coffee bag to steal a camera from the store. He's caught by store security, his name is taken, and a complaint is forwarded to police.
Meanwhile a Starbuck's employee inspects the bathroom, finds the flashlight, and thinks it's a bomb. So Starbuck's calls the police, they send the Bomb Squad, who analyzes the device in situ ("well, it COULD be a bomb...") and decides to "defuse" it with the water cannon just to be safe. They then analyze the Starbucks video, and the time of incident checks out to said homeless guy. Starbuck's employees give police his name, and the rent-a-cops at Circuit City give SFPD a name and Polaroid for the shoplifting incident. Meanwhile, the homeless guy is arrested on an outstanding drug warrant the following day. When interviewed, 2 plus 2 end up making 5, and a shoplifing drug addict makes national news.
Meanwhile, police and media figures start playing telephone. The baristas get the next two days off, and SFPD spokespeople describe the flashlight as "an item that, if it had exploded, would have caused some damage.” The ATF is called in. KPIX gets a heartwarming interview with the suspect.
At which point the flashlight is revealed to be a flashlight.
I have some thoughts about all this:
1. While retail managers probably should get some basic premises security and bomb recognition traning from corporate, one wonders what kind of Starbucks employees think they are likely to be bombed. If I worked at Starbuck's I'd be more worried about laptop thieves, not bombs. Of course, Starbuck's employees routinely shug their shoulders at laptop thefts on their premises, so perhaps they think that customers who lose their laptops there will develop some sort of grudge. This is very reminiscent of what happened to City College Trustee Rodel Rodis, who got falsely arrested last year for counterfeiting when he used a older $100 bill to buy something and the pimplefuck manager thought it was fake. Bureaucratic Risk Aversion and stupidity are a dangerous combination.
2. Police spokespeople should not make shit up. If it's a real bomb, they should not say shit. If it turns out to be a fake bomb, they should not say shit. Once a suspected "bomb" is proved to be another innocent object, they should make a very clear statement of how and why it was mistaken for a bomb.
3. SFPD may wish to consider actually responding to shoplifting calls and taking shoplifters to jail, rather than citing and releasing them or passively taking reports from stores. We can always release them after booking at the jail.
4. Media pros could start asking obvious questions, like, well, WHO WOULD REALLY WANT TO BOMB A STARBUCK'S?!
Discussion on The Wall Forum