Robber flees because he's asked nicely

Convenience store clerk in Nova Scotia uses politeness to talk down a masked assailant

Never underestimate the power of politeness. As a convenience store clerk in Lower Sackville, N.S., discovered last week, sometimes all you have to do to stop a thief from robbing you is, well, ask nicely.

According to RCMP spokesman Cpl. Joe Taplin, the masked suspect, who had demanded cash and cigarettes from the clerk of the Needs Convenience store, was “kind of taken” when the clerk politely asked him to “please leave.” He just looked at the employee and said, “You’re the first person to ask me to leave in such a nice way. Because of that I will leave.”

Taplin says it’s the first time in his 19-year career at the RCMP that he’s heard of a convenience store employee talking down an assailant. In the event of robbery, he says clerks are normally advised to “just back away” and let thieves “do what they have to do.” In the past, there have been a few instances in which employees have successfully evaded a holdup, says Taplin, but the tactics haven’t been quite so peaceful: “They’ve defended themselves with a baseball bat.”

This incident, however, seems to create a uniquely Canadian precedent for how to successfully prevent a robbery. “Maybe politeness does still count,” says Taplin. “We’re not going to say it’s going to work all the time, but it doesn’t hurt to try.”

Still, John Arrowood, a psychologist at the Centre for Ad­­diction and Mental Health in Toronto, says this incident is the exception rather than the rule. “The typical assailant normally wouldn’t follow that kind of instruction,” he says. When would-be robbers back down, it’s generally due to “very practical considerations,” such as the belief that they’re going to be caught, or the sudden glimpse of a security camera.

As for the suspect in this case—described as a male about 17 years old, wearing a white bandana over his face—good manners won’t be enough to prompt a change of heart on the part of RCMP. Though he remained at large at press time, Taplin says that if apprehended, “he’s still going to be charged.”

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