Facecrook! Fort Greene grocer posts photos of alleged shoplifters online

Facecrook! Fort Greene grocer posts photos of alleged shoplifters online
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

A Fort Greene grocer is trying to shame shoplifters into avoiding his store by embarrassing them on the internet.

Daniel Lee, the manager of the 24-hour Fulton Street shop Fresh Garden, gathers photos captured by his store’s 27 security cameras that depict people he claims have stolen and posts them on his website’s “Hall of Shame.”

But don’t worry — he’s not judging anyone.

“We’re not doing this to say, ‘Hey this person is bad,’ ” said Lee. “Every business owner’s goal is to try and reduce the amount of theft; this works as a deterrent.”

Lee uploads images from the Fulton Street shop, as well photographs from grocery stores owned by his parents including Green-Ville Garden on Myrtle Avenue, Greene Farm on Greene Avenue, and the restaurants One Greene and Lean Crust.

Signs in the store warn shoppers they’re being watched — and may become blog fodder.

“If you are caught on camera stealing your picture will be posted on our Hall of Shame,” reads the small sign at Fresh Garden. “By entering Fresh Garden you agree not to hold Fresh Garden accountable in any way for using your picture if you are caught.”

Lee claims the website — and the warning signs — helped cut down on theft of produce and snacks since he launched the Hall of Shame five months ago.

“We were losing about $400 a week of stuff from our location on Myrtle Avenue — now it’s about half that,” said Lee, who sometimes watches store security cameras via his iPhone and has chased people down the block to inform them that they’re going to have a web presence.

Petty theft is so common at the store that Lee claims he doesn’t always report shoplifting to police, electing to publish the pictures online instead.

He says he leaves the photos up even in the event of an arrest, but claims that he’s willing to sit down with anyone to discuss removing a photo — provided the person admits committing a crime.

Cops urge business owners to report all crimes, no matter the scale.

“If we don’t know about it, the issue is not being taken care of,” said a police source who noted that filing a report with photo evidence can make it easier to bust crooks the next time they come around.

And criminal justice experts said even though they had never heard of anything quite like the online Hall of Shame, the style of deterrence dates back to antiquity.

“The principle is a fairly common, it’s called shaming,” said professor Robert McCrie, an expert on urban crime and surveillance at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “It has fallen out of favor, but it is very much part of our criminal justice system still. That’s why we have perp walks.”

Other stores around the borough tape photos of suspected thieves in their windows and office buildings have long kept pictures of banned visitors behind the front desk, but McCrie said Lee is an innovator in online shaming.

The practice of shaming has been around since the stocks of the Middle Ages, but the effectiveness of shaming has never been formally studied, McCrie said.

And he cautioned that while there is no expectation of privacy on the street or inside stores — businesses can photograph patrons as they please, provided they don’t use the photos for commercial purposes — Lee could find himself liable for defamation.

Still, Lee asserts the pictures he publishes aren’t of people he suspects of stealing — they show people he knows were stealing.

That said, the Wall of Shame isn’t all “Law and Order” — it’s part “Reno 911.”

Lee attempts to write humorous captions that accompany the photos he uploads.

“She must love tuna! She stole quite a bit of it,” reads one.

“Love the porn ’stach … doesn’t mean you can steal wine though,” reads another.

Lee said he is considering developing the technology more with a techie friend in order to make it marketable to other businesses.

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow him at twitter.com/emrosenberg.