There is no such thing as a Constitutional right for an adult to be entitled to a phone call. The right to a phone call is a Hollywood invention. There are times and circumstances that police will allow a phone call. They do not have to.
Don't misunderstand me. I am not condoning insensitive or improper police behavior any more than you are condoning theft. I have found only 8 states that require police to notify the parents of 17 year olds before proceeding with booking and questioning and Illinois is not among them. And the store did notify you of the incident, though the girls had been arrested by the time you got there. That may or may not have been an oversight on their part. They did ultimately tell you where they were.
However, as this matter was handled badly, I would urge you to write a strong letter -- or have a lawyer do so -- to the manager of Macy's -- report the police conduct to the superiors of he arresting officer, file another report against the police with Internal Affairs, and also report the matter to your State Attorney General's office. At the very least, the last two reports should raise an inquiry into your local police procedure and the matter would be investigated. The officers could be sanctioned or suspended if they committed improprieties. And of course, by bringing the matter to the surface you would be helping change come about.
Theft is an offense that can be prosecuted both civilly and criminally, and Macy's need not settle for just one avenue. Most large chains have become very vigorous about going after shoplifters. They charge -- and the civil law allows them to do so -- hefty fines and penalties for property taken even when it's returned unused and nominal in price. This helps them to cover the cost of their surveillance systems, insurance coverage, and loss prevention personnel.
Then they also turn the matter over to the police, who pass it along, in turn, to the state prosecutor. The purpose of the civil procedure is to repay the damages that flow from the loss. The purpose of the criminal prosectution is to punish the wrongdoer.
So in the end, while Macy's was more interested in money than in common courtesy , you will learn that they are entitled to compensation.
Finally, one need not actually leave the store to be arrested for shoplifting if circumstances make out the intent to do so. Obviously, once a suspect does leave the store, that's a stronger case for the prosecution. But the standard for an arrest is not proof of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. That's a trial standard.
To make an arrest and file charges with the court, all that's necessary is something called "probable cause
." Probable cause is really only a reasonable belief that a crime may be afoot and that a particular person may have something to do with it. Very little evidence is required, and in matters like this one overzealous store security personnel will make the most of that. If the prosecutor chooses to follow this up and to have your daughter summoned to juvenile court, she can, of course, choose to contest the charges.
I doubt that this will make you feel better about what happened and how you and your daughter were treated, but hopefully it will put it into perspective in a larger context.
Edited by FranL on 2/6/2011 at 2:09 PM EST