For the last 6 months, some of my coworkers and I have noticed our tools have been missing out of our locked lockers. These are expensive construction tools that are our livelihood.

I hid a motion activated camera in one of my tool lockers, facing out through a small hole toward the other lockers. After monitoring it for weeks, I have narrowed it down to two perpetrators who consistently load up bags with our tools and drive them to the door at the end of their shift. We work on different shifts.

I have 6 videos with no doubt of the guilt. The leader has 50 years of seniority and will retire soon. The other has about 25 years. I just want our tools back or their money equivalent. If I turn it over to management, they might be fired. If I turn it in to the union, who knows. Any suggestions?

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    take it to the police – Old_Lamplighter Mar 29 '16 at 12:45
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    Be aware that you can get into trouble yourself for the video surveillance - you should have reported this at the start, not taken it on yourself to conduct potentially illegal surveillance... – Moo Mar 29 '16 at 12:52
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Mar 30 '16 at 9:10
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    If you don't want to report them, have you considered leaving a piece of paper in your locker saying something like this? "Bob and Jon, can you stop stealing my stuff? I can ignore it once, but I can't keep ignoring it forever, so if you'd stop and ideally return my stuff it'd be easier for all of us. Cheers." No need to mention a video or anything... – user541686 Mar 30 '16 at 22:37
  • @Mehrdad I'd recommend posting that as an answer in case the comments get cleaned up again. Assuming you're pretty sure the people aren't the mafia type, that actually seems like a good solution to consider. – reirab Mar 31 '16 at 14:56

Take it to management. I hope you have a good reason for not involving them in the first place because they're certainly going to ask. Making potentially illegal recordings in the workplace is not going to reflect well on you and you'll want to be apologetic about that as well.

Workplace theft is a serious issue. It's one of the few valid reasons for a summary dismissal even in locations that don't have at-will employment. You say that they might get fired, and in my opinion they certainly should, but why should that concern you? These people have made a choice to steal from their own coworkers(!). Would you really want to keep working with such a person for the next 20 years? Would you be comfortable attending a colleague's retirement party with the knowledge that he was happy to make off with your hard-earned money?

I am not qualified to judge the union aspect. While I imagine that unions won't attempt to shield proven thieves, least of all when they steal from their colleagues, I have been surprised before. If your union rep is someone you can trust who has a history of reliability then you could ask them for input without going into details. Otherwise I'd personally still go to management first, but like I said, I don't have any experience with unions.

As I mentioned, you'll want to handle this carefully when you bring this up with your manager. Not alerting them when the theft became apparent was a bad call. Setting up a camera was a worse one. You'll want to acknowledge that you handled this poorly and give acceptable reasons for not going to them directly. One excuse would be that if it turned out to be the single-parent in the group who's having trouble making ends meet, that you didn't want them to lose their job. As Steve Jessop rightly points out, you'll want to be very careful with the reasons you give. You want to have a reasonable and acceptable reason for not alerting management that doesn't further harm your reputation in their eyes. Something like "we wanted to give the thief a chance to come clean" could work, but it all depends on the particulars of the situation.

Do not go to the police without alerting management first. Your managers will not appreciate them showing up out of the blue and its management's job and responsibility to handle matters like this. You already screwed up by not involving them before now, don't make it any worse.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Mar 30 '16 at 9:12

It's theft, which is a crime, which should be reported to the police. However, unannounced video surveillance is illegal in many jurisdictions or can at least be inadmissible in court. Consult a lawyer to make sure you aren't getting yourself in legal trouble by reporting it.

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    If these are personal items, management AND the police should be notified and a theft report created. After that you can 'mention' your suspicions, if the Police feel strong enough they will get a warrant or try and catch them on the way out. – Bill Leeper Mar 29 '16 at 16:19
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    +1 to this. Bear in mind that you may be called upon to testify how you got the video and you may be incriminating yourself. It's far better to speak to an actual lawyer than asking a bunch of random people on the internet. – Richard Mar 29 '16 at 20:59

First let the management know that you have suspicions about these two people as too many people see them come in an out with large bags of tools. Don't mention the camera recording. Let them set up a trap on their own and catch these people. Management failing to do that, document that you reported it to management and nothing had been done, go to the police and tell them that you have a proof by means of recording, showing the perpetrators in action. They can tell you if this can be used as an evidence against them. Even if it is not, they can issuea search warrant for their homes and vehicles. If any of the stolen tools turn out, guess what ? No need for your recording.

But definitely start with management. I'm sure with the seniority of these guys, union people will get involved to save their skin. So, no need to go to the union on your own. They protect their senior members no matter what, over who is right or wrong, especially in a case like this, where the evidence usability is questionable at best.

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    If the recording is illegal, it can't be used to justify a search warrant. – stannius Mar 29 '16 at 19:37
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    Before taking the video to the police you should consult with a lawyer about whether or not that is illegal in your area. By handing over the recording you may be incriminating yourself in a serious crime, which is not smart – Kevin Wells Mar 29 '16 at 21:35
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    @stannius IANAL but illegal recordings can be used to justify a search warrant - if the police's hands are clean in the matter. In this case, they neither made the recording nor encouraged it. However, to keep their hands pristinely clean they may choose to prosecute the illegal recording (if it is in fact illegal). See cnn.com/2011/10/06/us/california-robbery-porn-bust – emory Mar 30 '16 at 14:40

If you don't want to report them, have you considered leaving a piece of paper in your locker saying something like this?

Bob and Jon, can you stop stealing my stuff? I can ignore it once, but I can't keep ignoring it forever, so if you'd stop and ideally return my stuff it'd be easier for all of us. Cheers.

No need to mention a video or anything...

  • I like this approach although I would list missing items and ask that they be returned. Also remove the camera first. – Bill K Jun 25 '19 at 17:40

Your recording may be illegal or could get you fired. You'll want to keep that close to your vest.

I'm going to disagree with all the other posts.

If your goal is to get your tools back, there's a straight path. With the calmest demeanor you can manage, just show your best few seconds of the video to the perpetrator and say "We just want our tools back. No one has to know about this." Then walk away. Don't discuss, don't confront. You're not making a threat, and everyone is calm.

Your actions are then defensible. People make mistakes and do stupid things. Give him a chance to do the right thing. Legal processes can eat your life, and the blowback in new security requirements will not impact him in retirement.

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    This sounds dangerous. – mcknz Mar 29 '16 at 16:11
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Mar 30 '16 at 23:05
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    Not only does this sound dangerous but I think it would be very unlikely to work--if they're stealing a bunch of tools they're probably selling them and won't have them to return. – Loren Pechtel Mar 31 '16 at 0:27
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    I said this in another answer but confronting criminals is how every other episode of CSI starts. Directly disclosing the recording will only be inferred as blackmail and —assuming they no longer have the goods— will only result in them seeking to protect themselves by keeping you quiet. Don't assume they won't escalate to keep themselves out of prison and/or in work. – Oli Mar 31 '16 at 9:40
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    If the OP follows your absurd advice of confronting the thieves, this would happen: → OP joined the matchThieves joined the matchOP used blackmail grenade at ThievesThieves ︻◦=═一 OP – Kyle Mar 31 '16 at 19:39

If the tools are yours, then you have some leeway in protecting your tools and trade, and you may not get in as much trouble for the video as you would otherwise. However, you may get in trouble because you are not just accusing the individuals involved, but as a side effect are accusing the company of providing inadequate security for your personal tools they require you to bring to do your job. It's a touchy situation, but given that they are your tools, and you are experiencing theft and loss, you have much more firm ground to stand on in regards to your video and possible prosecution.

If the tools aren't yours, then I'd choose one of a few paths:

  • save the video, don't share it, but alert management. It's their property, if things keep going into a hole and they don't care, then neither should you.
  • send the video anonymously to HR, management, and the union. It's unlikely that they will be able to tell exactly which locker the video was filmed from, so you should be relatively safe, but once several people receive it they should then act on it, even if individually they knew and accepted it, they may be forced to act in order to avoid being seen as part of the problem.
  • send the video anonymously to the individuals involved. Make sure they understand you aren't blackmailing them, but even with that you put yourself at considerable risk. Some people will act very violently when they believe their livelihood is at stake, even when it's their own action that's caused it, and the camera angle might be enough for them to guess it's you and the lockers next to yours - threatening several people isn't much worse than one, so they might just go around and find out who did it.
  • send the video to everyone who uses the lockerroom anonymously, including the perpetrators. Make sure everyone knows that everyone received it. In these kinds of situations the problem will often resolve itself...

Unless you own the tools or other stolen items, going to the police isn't useful - you can't file much of a report on property you don't own or are responsible for. This has to be done through the employer.


Turn them in to your union's shop rep. Let them deal with it.

The union should be able to keep you personally out of it, and should be able to speak with the individuals privately - hopefully getting your tools back.

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    Why should you involve a union in a criminal situation? It isn't their stuff being stolen and they are not law enforcement. The people who should be involved are the victims of the crime (the company and possibly the workers) and law enforcement. – Kevin Wells Mar 29 '16 at 21:37
  • Because unions look out for their members - both accusers and accused. – WorkerDrone Apr 5 '16 at 12:25
  • That's great, but they should not be the only people you report this to. This is a criminal situation and it is irresponsible not to report it to law enforcement or the victims – Kevin Wells Apr 5 '16 at 14:56

There's no question about using your recordings as evidence, disclosing those to the police will bring more trouble to you than it will to the thieves. However, once you have the suspects, you can get a clean evidence.

For example, you could take a habit to show up at the end of your suspect's shift, trying to spot suspicious behavior (hiding stuff in their bags, etc.). You can then report your observations to the police and make the person responsible for the tools file a theft report. This may be enough for the police to get a search warrant.

Alternatively, you can routinely check the presence of the tools at the start and end of your shift, perhaps even keep a written record. Once you notice a missing tool, document the incident. Submitting such record to the police, along with a theft report, may also justify a search warrant.

Of course, I'm not a lawyer, but I play one on TV.

  • "There's no question about using your recordings as evidence, disclosing those to the police will bring more trouble to you than it will to the thieves." This is highly dependent on your local jurisdiction. Also, many (most?) jurisdictions give prosecutors wide authority on whether to prosecute something. When your stuff is being stolen, a reasonable one might very well just tell you "Don't do that again" while prosecuting the thieves. – reirab Mar 31 '16 at 14:40
  • True, but I prefer to assume the worst when taking risks. – Dmitry Grigoryev Mar 31 '16 at 14:49

Only the police can actually get a search warrant for the perpetrators' homes. If you go to management first, the perpetrators will be tipped off and have time to get your belongings out of their homes and you will not get anything back. Go straight to the police with no detours. Also officially documenting your accusations with the police will prevent retaliation by the perpetrators or their associates. I'll bet they know where you live. Protect your family and home by going straight to the police first.

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    -1 for reasons listed in this answer I don't think going to the police is good advice. – Tas Mar 30 '16 at 4:04
  • "Protect your family and home" by making as big a deal out of it as possible? Mmmm... nah. – Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 30 '16 at 10:08

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