HR Confidential

HR Confidential: I caught employees committing a felony on surveillance cameras

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In the fourth installment of CNBC Make It's series, HR Confidential, a San Francisco-based human resources professional with more than 15 years of experience tells Ruth Umoh about the criminal act he uncovered through surveillance cameras.

The below is told in the HR pro's own words, and has been edited for length and clarity.

The scenario:

I was working as an HR manager for a car company and had recruited a bunch of mid-20s kids to work as technicians at one of our dealerships. These kids came from very poor neighborhoods and I really wanted to give them a chance because I grew up in a similar blue-collar environment.

Things were fine for about two years, but then we had a rash of thefts from the dealership's warehouse. It's part of company protocol to check on parts, make sure everything is there and to keep a log of everything.

The person responsible for this noticed that about five sets of tires were missing during his inventory check. Each tire, with rims, costs about $1,000 a piece, so we're talking about a tremendous amount of money.

My stomach just dropped.
HR manager

I partnered with the security team and we looked through our potential areas of weakness and vulnerability. We went through time cards to see who was coming in and coming out of the warehouse and looked at some of the logs at the entrance gates to see when parts were delivered. There were to many people going in and out and so we couldn't find any correlation between the time of the thefts and a possible suspect.

At that point, the security team put in a work order to install security cameras internally. They suspected that this was an inside job and if it wasn't, we'd at least be better able to track our inventory. The cameras were set up within a two-week period of time.

Days later, we looked at the surveillance test and my stomach just dropped. I saw about five of the employees I recruited entering the warehouse and using our company car to load up tires.

I could see their faces and they were kind of laughing and joking as they were doing it. I was just thinking, "Oh my goodness, I can't believe this is going on."

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The solution:

We'd previously put a homing device in the company van they were using because we wanted to know where the vehicle was at all times. After loading up all of the tires, the employees drove to a parking lot within a mile's distance to deposit them. They then came back later that night to pick them up.

I called the kids into my office within hours of watching the tape and asked them if there was anything they'd like to talk about. Of course they said "no" over and over again. I told them, "This is something that's very serious and you could lose your job," but they still denied knowing anything about the tire thefts.

I even pulled one of the guys aside and said, "Listen, I know I've done some stupid things in my lifetime. This is not a time for you not to be fessing up. Tell us what you know." They didn't, so we played the tapes showing their faces.

They still denied stealing the tires and said that it wasn't them on video, even though I could see them right there. That made me angry. It's one thing to do something stupid. It's another thing to then lie about it, especially when you have someone who is empathetic and working with you to hopefully not press charges. When you lie you take all options off the table. We had our security call the cops and file a police report and the kids were arrested. I didn't follow up with it after that.

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The lesson:

As someone who's had things stolen from him before, I obviously had this sense of pride. I felt like I'd caught the bad guys and wanted to make an example out of them. But at the same time, I felt bad for them.

These are kids who come from my background, and I knew they were going to get into trouble big time. They stole over $40,000 worth of tires, so now we're talking felony. Knowing that their entire lives were going to be affected in some capacity because of their stupidity was definitely a bummer, and it filled me with dread.

One thing I learned is that you can't leave valuable items unattended. Human behavior is very dynamic, and it's going to change based on the circumstances that someone is facing. But if you have good checks and balances and security, then you're better able to protect people from themselves.

I also learned that hiring people with integrity is critical. It's even more important than hiring for talent or skill.

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