(Paul Sakuma/AP)

Safeway belatedly found some late yesterday when officials finally apologized and pledged not to prosecute a pregnant mother for shoplifting.

From the AP:

“Karl Schroeder, a Safeway Inc. division president, called Nicole Leszczynski on Tuesday, and ‘apologized for what she’s been through,’ [company spokeswoman Susan] Houghton said.

Houghton said management followed routine shoplifting procedure by contacting police, but Safeway regrets not foreseeing that doing so would cause a child to be separated from her parents.

‘We want to do the right thing here,’ Houghton said. ‘Families are important to us.’”

Leszczynski said a Safeway employee told her she and her family were not welcomed at the store for one year. “Houghton said she wasn’t sure who would have told them that, but Safeway welcomes the family back,” reports the AP.

But many who read about this woman’s ordeal were not so forgiving.

For those new to the story, here’s a link to the original post and a quick recap: Mother who is 30-weeks pregnant walks into a Hono­lulu Safeway with her toddler and husband. Woman orders two sandwiches, totaling $5, in the store and eats one while she shops. Presumably her husband eats the other. She checks out about $50 worth of groceries but doesn’t pay for the sandwiches. She says she forgot, apologizes and offers to pay. Safeway officials accuse her of shoplifting. Police arrest her and her husband and then proceed to remove their daughter from their custody overnight.

It’s evident from the facts, and from Safeway’s defensive public relations crouch, that there were a series of poor decisions. The question is: Whose decisions — the parents’, the Safeway employees’, the police’s — were worse?

The parents, at best, were disoriented and forgetful, and at worst, intentional shoplifters. The details of the case suggest that they were more the former. Here’s Nicole Leszczynski’s first-person account.

The Safeway workers’ response and the police’s insistence on following “policy” lead to a chain of events that would be ridiculous if it wasn’t so traumatic for this family and for a little baby who had to spend a bewildering night away from her parents.

But that was not the takeaway for some of the readers of the post. Many of the hundreds who commented wrote that the woman was treated appropriately, and that an arrest and temporary loss of custody of her child was appropriate. They also thought my “admission” of eating-while-shopping-with-kids read like a justification of shoplifting.

Here’s a sampling of reactions:

“The law is the law. If you don’t like it, change the law.”

“Overkill? Sure. But the argument that because she’s pregnant and/or had a hungry kid along is ridiculous. Buy before you eat, wear, play with, or in any way use. And, really? You can’t get through a shopping trip without grazing? Is it also okay, to sample the produce? Plan better. Carry snacks in your car. And if you’re going to be so careless, be prepared to pay the consequences.”

“She ‘forgot’ to pay for something she’d already eaten, and used her kid as an excuse. She shouldn’t be surprised that she was busted for it. In a grocery store, if you pay for your food before you eat it, this doesn’t happen. This one was trying to get away with it.”

“Pay for the food, then eat, or go to jail. What is there not to understand?”

To clarify: I’m on the record in the original post and again here saying shoplifting is wrong.

What is also wrong is using blanket policies to react to specific situations. (An argument can certainly be made that it’s an increasingly common problem. It’s part of the reason some Fairfax County parents are currently in revolt against the school administration. A disciplinary policy there was one-size-fits all until its absurdity led to tragedy.)

Here, let’s stick to supermarkets. Would, say, 50 years ago, the local grocer have called the police on a frazzled pregnant mother who had a pretty good excuse and evidence (the receipt, the wrappers) to back it up? Perhaps, but then if word got out in the community, he’d likely be an ex-grocer.

Just because our corporate entities such as Safeway have lost the art of discretion, it doesn’t mean we, personally, have to as well.

For those who may read the appeal for leniency as a political issue or think that I am writing from a political persuasion, know this: My outrage is as a parent. What’s terrifying to me about this story is that the little girl was taken away from the parents and put into government custody because of a possible mix-up over two sandwiches.

I’m not sure if that makes me a liberal (because I think leniency for shoplifting in this case was deserved) or a conservative (for rejecting a mandated state-sanctioned solution). I know it makes me someone who longs for the courageous “authority” who can recognize the realities in any given situation.

Or, as was asked in the Hawaii Reporter : “Couldn’t anyone have shown her some ‘Aloha’...?

Do you think Nicole Leszczynski should have been arrested? Leave a comment here or join the conversation on Twitter.

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