How to establish good community relations with Roma?
February 26, 2008 10:58 AM   Subscribe

Roma Resources, please.

I am managing a charity shop and there are lots of Roma (also known derogatorily as gypsies) in my shop all the time. They are often unwashed and unkempt because they are overcrowded into cold water flats. They frequently want discounts on items, which I give when I can, the kids do not go to school, and - I worry even about saying this - they are stealing.

There is very occasional theft from non roma people, but roma people - mainly children and teenagers - are the ones who are stealing, according to all the volunteers. It's not just the ones caught - an item will be found missing after a roma family has been in the shop.

I caught a young lady once and she literally shrugged at me! No guilt at all, defiance when I yelled at her to leave.

The rest of the charity shops have banned all Roma. I don't want to do this as it's morally wrong and against the law - quite racist.

My heart goes out to them, especially the young teenage girls, often pregnant or with a baby or a toddler, pleading for me to give them £1 baby clothes for ten pence in coppers or whatever they have got. I want to help and I want to establish a community connection so there is less stealing. It would be useful to me to know how to go about that.

We need the stealing to stop - it's becoming quite time consuming and I feel very uncomfortable watching people of a certain race more closely than others.

Also useful would be resources in Slovak and Romanian - these are the countries from which the Roma population here comes from.

I am in Glasgow.
posted by By The Grace of God to Human Relations (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
This is a difficult issue. My readings on the Roma suggest that the stealing you're seeing may come from centuries of self-fulfilling prophecy -- they were looked upon as thieves, so why not be one?

But at the same time, there may be other people -- non Roma -- who also have stolen from your shop over the years. Because of the stereotypes, these items might not have been missed. Is the fact that "most" of the stealing seems to come from Roma at least partially confirmation bias?

I agree that you shouldn't watch the Roma more closely than others. I think what you want to do is a strategy of what to do if they steal. Something that gives the message that you will deal more fairly with them if they don't steal.
posted by lleachie at 11:44 AM on February 26, 2008

I hope this thread is not going to be filled with self-righteous comments about "how dare you accuse the poor oppressed Roma??" The essential caveats have been well made by lleachie; perhaps now we can concentrate on actually answering the question. I'm not sure what kind of resources you're looking for, but Isabel Fonseca's Bury Me Standing is an excellent and empathetic account of Roma life. (And you sound like your heart is in the right place; as someone who has worked retail and felt terrible about inadvertently discovering a thief, I know what you mean.)
posted by languagehat at 11:50 AM on February 26, 2008

We need the stealing to stop

then you need to report them. I fear that your humanitarian efforts -- ie, teaching professional thieves that stealing is wrong -- can not take the back seat to the necessity to report them.

The rest of the charity shops have banned all Roma. I don't want to do this as it's morally wrong and against the law - quite racist.

would you report a thief who's 100% Scottish? if you would, report the Romas, too. if you wouldn't report the Scot either, take the hit and write off your losses due to theft as cost of doing business in a humanitarian manner.

and I feel very uncomfortable watching people of a certain race more closely than others.

then install security cameras. they're neither racist nor stupidly politically correct, they just record moving images.
posted by matteo at 1:31 PM on February 26, 2008

(of course minors might be shielded from full prosecution -- I don't know Scottish law -- that's why they're such an asset for organized criminals. this doesn't change the fact that it's the cops' job, not yours)
posted by matteo at 1:33 PM on February 26, 2008

I think what you want to do is a strategy of what to do if they steal. Something that gives the message that you will deal more fairly with them if they don't steal.

Seems obvious, but probably bears re-stating: You need a system that create incentives for honesty. Society is built on incentivizing honesty, but you need it in industrial strength.

So let's start with a framework.

1. The incentive system should reward any paying customer.
2. The system should not discourage normal shopping behaviors.
3. The system must enhance your bottom line as an end product. You are in business.
4. You must find the system morally palatable.

Great. Now you (and/or HiveMind) begin brainstorming ideas. Any idea is acceptable as an idea, but only ideas that fit the framework can be seriously considered.
posted by SlyBevel at 1:35 PM on February 26, 2008

Can you offer a discount to Romas on certain days of the week? I realize this sounds unfair to others, but I know of several stores that have "Senior Tuesdays" and the like, so why not try to schedule a day when you know you will be there each week and celebrate them, instead of constantly having to come down as the heavy?

Then, if you do catch a Roma stealing, you can put up a sign saying how you want to keep the discount day going, but you might be forced to stop if theft like the one that happened such-and-such-a-day continues. I don't know if this would work, of course, but it might help to promote your shop as more Roma-friendly than your competition, at the very least.
posted by misha at 3:43 PM on February 26, 2008

Get into their heads. Seriously. Learn anything you can about the Roma, warts and all - they are both a very beautiful and very ugly people. If you can put what they're doing to them in their own terms and convince them they're stealing from themselves, they might quit.

But theft is an entrenched behavior. If you can cultivate a relationship with one of them, it might be possible to ask why - but you might also end up being conned out of your very existence. I know you want to be gentle and nonjudgmental, and that's great in theory but impossible in practice.
posted by medea42 at 4:10 PM on February 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Employ one.

As a security guard.
posted by hAndrew at 4:41 PM on February 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well, I've collected Romanian resources. You can find most of these through Google, but they're hidden. (I know what could be termed a metric crapload of Romanians, and like having some vague idea of what they're saying when they switch into Romanian.)

My favourite. Only useful, however, if you want to actually learn the language, instead of just "hello" and such.
English-Romanian-English dictionary.
Basic phrases. No pronunciation help, really.
More basic phrases, grouped by category, and with sound. As sources for Romanian go, pretty awesome.
More basic phrases. Slightly less useful that most, as it's taken up with hiking terms.
A handful of phrases, but with audio.
Pronunciation and grammar guide.

The above posters have better ideas about the interpersonal problem than I do.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 8:23 PM on February 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Forgot one.

Sorry that I can't help with the Slovak.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 8:35 PM on February 26, 2008

Roma and Romanian are not the same. Roma are a nomadic people thought to be ethnically southern asian.

Roma folklore is that they were given, by God, the "right" to steal, connive and swindle in return for some good deed done in ancient times. I think it has something to so with swindling the Roman soldiers out of some nails during Christ's crucifixion.

Every culture has it's rules and freedoms, and unfortunately for you, the culture of the people you are getting in your shop is a culture of "it's not stealing if you need it."

Solution? Security guard.
posted by gjc at 8:36 PM on February 26, 2008

I recognize that stealing is culturally defined, and their culture may well define it differently than yours, but I feel you wouldn't be asking this unless you wanted to stop facilitating their forcing that particular aspect of their culture on you.

From what you say, it seems the following are known in your community:
A) you're the only shop of your kind that doesn't explicitly prohibit Roma;
B) you'll often massively discount your prices for people who ask; and
C) you won't physically detain and report to the police people you observe stealing.

If those are all commonly known, I think you're experiencing the inevitable results, and it sounds like you're loath to change any of those (certainly rightfully so in the case of A). Several people are suggesting you should change C, using a security guard. I also think you should change C with clear warning -- with posted signs that say "SHOPLIFTERS WILL BE PROSECUTED" and listing whatever the criminal penalties are in your area.

Find out exactly what the right procedure is (how the guard should stop people observed by the guard or the staff to have taken something, and how this should be documented). If it works as it does in my area, there will be a point in each case where you decide whether to press charges and at that point you could decide to accept the return of the item rather than press the charges. That would make a lesser, but perhaps somewhat meaningful, impression. Perhaps you could have a policy of pressing charges for all repeat offenders. Again, clearly stating that and being consistent about it would be the key. I assume you're also entirely within your rights (legally as well as ethically) to bar individuals in the future if you've documented them stealing from your shop.
posted by sparrows at 8:30 AM on February 27, 2008

gjc: I realize that (trust me, the best way to get my Romanian friends to curse: mention gypsies/Roma or Stalin) but she did mention Romanian. It's not impossible that they speak Romanian.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 10:50 AM on March 15, 2008

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