Reader comments on hotel crime

Every so often, editors are rewarded with feedback from readers that makes them rethink an issue, showing that it is not as straightforward as they thought.

Every so often, editors are rewarded with feedback from readers that makes them rethink an issue, showing that it is not as straightforward as they thought. Last month, Canadian Lodging News ran an article titled “Uncovering the Criminal Element in hotels.”

It’s a subject of great interest to hoteliers—over 100 of them crammed into one of the sessions at the Alberta Hotel & Lodging Association conference to hear what Constable Wayne Birks of the Calgary Police Service had to say.

The feedback came to me from Sandra Gies, Proprietor of Red Deer Log Cabins in Madawaska, ON. Here’s what she had to say.

“In the most recent issue [of Canadian Lodging News] I see something that I find contestable, due to its presentation. In the above mentioned article, Constable Wayne Birks of the Calgary Police Service is paraphrased as saying, “If the guests are an old farming couple, of course you could accept cash from them.” [Editor’s note: I am responsible for the paraphrasing.]

“This statement is just WRONG in so many ways. Whether Constable Birks said this or not, his words were paraphrased, not quoted. Surely someone could have found a better way to present the idea for print. Ageism isn’t pretty. Also, how would a front desk person know the couple were farmers unless they arrived in the farm truck, with its special category of licence plate? Is anyone required to identify his/her line of work upon registration? It may just be Birks’ biases blazing, but really, think about the statement with regard to hotel guests.

“Also, lots of people are not who they seem to be. Older couples can easily be criminals on the run. How many Nazi war criminals lived to ripe old ages somewhere far from Germany? If you read news, you will increasingly see older persons being arrested for a wide variety of crimes, from gun crime, to robbery, to Internet fraud. The best (most successful) criminals are those who are not caught, so we don’t know their ages or genders.

“As well, I will point out that the reason the industry relies so heavily on credit card payments is to preclude employee embezzlement, not to enforce identity upon payment. There is NEVER a chargeback when cash is used for payment. The other reason for credit cards is because of damages; in many cases these charges are unrecoverable, because credit card processing companies have changed their focus heavily to supporting the client. A chargeback dispute results in fees to the hotelier more often than not.

“Using cash is not suspect. Not everyone has a credit card. Even though some people have credit issues, they may be fabulous guests. Some people even elect to not use credit, because they understand the broader implications of the exercise, and have personal commitment to a better world.

“Sometimes experts provide permission to employ bias. We need to be careful where our brain food comes from, and resist the impulse to follow expert opinions that are intolerant and judgemental, especially those who foment fear.”

Here are my take-aways from Sandra’s comments. Don’t profile your guests—so often we hear about negative profiling of young, black males in big cities, but the reverse can be true as well. Sometimes criminals don’t look like criminals. I’m thinking of the war drama Rules of Engagement, where a U.S. marine colonel gets court martialled for killing civilians in Yemen, when video footage ultimately showed that those women and children were wielding guns and fired first.

Cash payments don’t necessarily indicate a suspicious guest—though they should be considered if other factors indicate clandestine activity.
In the end, it all boils down to vigilance with a healthy balance of tolerance and perspective.