Former Bass Pro employee: Bullets, BB guns are stolen from store on daily basis

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Keith Thole said he started working in the towering pyramid when it opened in April of 2015. His gig as a supervisor at Bass Pro was one he loved, but the shoplifters -- not so much.

"How many times do you think you’d personally see or hear of people shoplifting?" WREG's Bridget Chapman asked Thole.

"On a daily basis," he said.

Every day, he said he’d notice young adults walk in with a mission: their eyes on the hunting section where ammo and BB guns aren’t secured.

But even if employees noticed a shoplifter, Thole said they weren’t allowed to stop them. That’s the policy with many companies.

“For us to even make contact with the suspected shoplifter, we have to get permission from the manager on duty.”

And then he said they would call the off-duty Memphis Police Department officer working security to intervene.

“Nine out of ten times they would tell us, 'Just let them go. It’s not worth it,'" he said.

One January day took a different turn after he got a call that a teen pocketed a box of ammunition.

Thole said he stopped the thief at the door and was waiting for the MPD officer to arrive, but the kid ran.

At first, Thole thought he was lunging at him and said he briefly grabbed the suspect's arm.

“It was a defensive manner, completely instinctive reaction," said Thole. "There was no ill intention in me grabbing him.”

He was fired soon after.

“I did believe I was in the wrong because like I said, I do know the rules," said Thole. "I actually taught the rules for orientation for new employees.”

But he said it’s a deeper issue than following the employee handbook.

“I started hearing about it last year that they were having an issue of people going into the store and shoplifting and taking BB guns," said Memphis Councilman Berlin Boyd. "That was a hot item to steal."

Councilman Boyd said Bass Pro is working with MPD to increase security.

Memphis police have reported 14 cases of shoplifting and five assaults since the store opened less than two years ago.

There's an unusual pattern to the 14 shoplifting cases.

Police reported zero shoplifting cases at Bass Pro for the first seven months the store was open, then two in December 2015. Another eight months went by with no shoplifting reported before seven cases were reported at the end of last year and five this January alone.

Many of the police reports detail teenagers stealing BB guns and bullets. One report says a suspect even fought the officer to the point the officer lost consciousness for a brief amount of time.

“A lot of people say, 'We wish they would lock the ammunition up [and] put the BB guns in a safe particular place that takes a key,' but that’s not their business model," said Boyd.

Boyd said customers enjoy the openness of the store, while Thole said it encourages criminals.

“That one or two boxes of ammunition, it may not hurt Bass Pro, but it can hurt a lot of people in this community," said Thole.

Bass Pro said in a statement some of the accusations being made are "baseless and inaccurate."

The spokesperson went on to say they’re “committed to ensuring a safe experience for our customers, our associates and our community."

He also noted the extensive security system in place.

“They’re definitely prosecuting," said Boyd. "If you get caught stealing in their store, they will prosecute you. They don’t care how young or how old you are. They will prosecute you.”