Is Walmart passing its crime buck to local governments?
Walmart gets noticed a lot. Millions appreciate the savings they receive at the chain’s stores. Others applaud its sustainability initiatives that benefit the environment. The company has also gotten plenty of attention for how it treats and compensates its workers. Now, Walmart is getting noticed for the amount of crime that takes place in and around its stores and the demands those problems place on local police.
A Bloomberg Businessweek article profiles a Walmart Supercenter in Tulsa, OK that has local police in the store up to 10 hours a day. According to the report, police have been called to this Walmart and three others in the city nearly 2,000 times over the past three years. As a point of comparison, police have been called to the four local Targets 300 times over the same stretch.
The amount of time officers spend in Walmart stores has budgetary consequences for local departments. Robert Rohloff, a squad sergeant in Tulsa, believes the chain is passing the cost of doing the job to local departments such as his.
“It’s ridiculous — we are talking about the biggest retailer in the world,” he told Bloomberg Businessweek. “I may have half my squad there for hours.”
Last year, a mayor in Beech Grove, IN declared the local Walmart a public nuisance and threatened to issue the store fines every time police are called to the location. The tension between Beech Grove and the retailer grew after a series of criminal incidents at the location, including a brawl between two women and a six-year-old boy in the shampoo aisle. A video of the fight went viral on the internet.
Walmart is not deaf to the criticism and has pledged to improve, but the changes needed are not coming quickly enough for many in law enforcement. Many believe the problems could be reduced if the stores added staff. Some question whether Walmart’s board and management are willing to incur those costs when it can instead pass the buck to municipalities.
- Walmart’s Out-of-Control Crime Is Driving Police Crazy – Bloomberg Businessweek
- Is Walmart a public nuisance? – RetailWire
- Utah’s high court says workers have the right to protect themselves – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Is the crime problem at Walmart, as the Bloomberg Businessweek article suggests, worse than what is typical at other retailers’ stores? What do you see as the solution to the crime problem at Walmart for the retailer and local governments?
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15 Comments on "Is Walmart passing its crime buck to local governments?"
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Principal, Cathy Hotka & Associates
Walmart always passes the buck. Taxpayers pick up the slack for the poverty wages they pay associates. Local police departments are forced to act as Walmart’s loss prevention staff. This will continue until customers say “no más” and push back by taking their business elsewhere.
President, Max Goldberg & Associates
Walmart has been successful by offering the lowest prices. To do this, they have squeezed costs out of doing business. Some of these practices are starting to catch up with the retail giant. First came the studies that showed a large percentage of Walmart employees getting public assistance. Next it was health care. Now it’s the need to have local police forces frequently on the scene at many Walmart stores. Walmart should pay a living wage and properly staff its stores to cut down on theft and other crimes that happen in its stores. Walmart can no longer cut costs by expecting the public sector to cover the shortfall.
Principal, Frank Riso Associates, LLC
Walmart is a very large company and bigger means more of everything, including crime. You cannot be the price leader and not expected to have less than average crime. If Walmart wants to curb crime they may need to make investments in their stores. Cameras are a major deterrent to crime and an increase in their own loss prevention department would also help. I do not think they are victims any more than any other retailer, but since they are so big they have the highest amount of crime reported. I also think more cooperation with the police, and even hiring off duty police to be at their stores in uniform, would be an effective method to deter crime.
Co-founder, RSR Research
Cathy has it exactly right. An article in Bloomberg (I think) in late 2015 estimated that taxpayers foot $153 billion in public assistance bills for them. It’s time to force the issue.
Global Vice President, Strategic Communications, SAP Global Retail Business Unit
Oh yeah! Another chance for anti-Walmartites to beat on the company that makes life much better for millions. When you run a shop the size of Walmart reacting is tougher than many can imagine. Go beat on GM and the delays in reacting and issuing recalls. What about Tylenol in the old days? What about the e-coli outbreaks? Did they all react fast enough? No, all of these took time to change the structure of operations and build up processes that help them react faster.
Low wages — go away — Walmart is raising wages and putting opportunities in front of more and more people that do not have jobs. New training, new internal growth plans. They are a strong employer that is improving.
The Bloomberg article was very one-sided and somebody at Bloomberg does not like Walmart. Too bad — Walmart is here to stay and still a place I shop, along with many other people.
Keep ranting and raving — it will not stop Walmart shoppers and we know Walmart is changing!
I am no fan of Walmart, but wouldn’t police departments be saving money if crimes are committed in a more centralized location?
President, b2b Solutions, LLC
Walmart shoppers benefit from the lower cost of goods that their business model has generated. Their lower prices are a function of many things including their store operations model built on high volume and low overhead. The low overhead comes from paying the wages they pay and the number of people they employ and where they are deployed. Both of these are in the process of changing. It remains to be seen if the changes will have the impact on shrink they forecast or on their employees’ lives that others have predicted.
Their labor model has definitely left them vulnerable to higher shrink as noted in the article. Unlike many retailers their shrink seems to be strongly oriented towards their “customers” rather than their employees.
The theft triangle indicates the shrink is the result of three factors: motivation, opportunity and lack of detection. Nothing Walmart does will change their customers’ motivation to steal. The changes they are making in their labor model might be able to impact the last two.
Retail Strategy - UST Global
Walmart is a government-subsidized business, no question. In this case, though, with all the legalities and safety issues surrounding dealing with in-store crime it’s probably better left to the professionals. I would expect that if you look at the policies of other retailers related to dealing with in-store crime, they would indicate that store associates should not get involved, but call for help. Why Walmart has more than 10 times the calls is a bit disconcerting.
CEO, The Customer Service Rainmaker, Rainmaker Solutions
Cathy hit the nail square on the head. Walmart needs to stand up and be counted to at least accept some responsibility here. This is an unpleasant story that I think comes from Walmart squeezing too much out of everything and everyone for the almighty dollar.
President, Affluent Insights & The Home Trust International
It’s in Walmart’s best interest to create a safe shopping environment for its customers. Managing trespassing/loitering and adding cameras will go a long way in managing the issue.
On the other hand, Walmart pays taxes for police protection. Give it to them.
CFO, Weisner Steel
At IIRC we had exactly the same discussion a year or so ago — it may have even been the same store location — and I have the same response now as then: what a ridiculous question … unless WMT is doing something to attract trouble (like giving out free moonshine in the parking lot) blame the people who shop — or shoplift — there. As for a comparison to Target, of course they have fewer problem customers, they have fewer customers, period.
Principal, Mark Heckman Consulting
I find this whole discussion a bit disturbing, but sadly not surprising. It’s not “Walmart’s crime” it is the communities’s crime. Believe it or not, Walmart pays taxes and lots of them to cover police, fire and other services. If Walmart ceased to exist tomorrow, the crime and those perpetrating it would not vanish with it, but just migrate to other retailers where the opportunity for crime presents itself. Who would pay for the “crime” then?
While it’s always cathartic for its critics to beat up on Walmart and blame them for everything from income inequality to union busting, the fact remains that without Walmart and their ascension to the number one retailer in the world, many items that shoppers in their communities buy on a regular basis would cost considerably more. That would also hold true for the police, firefighters, EMTs and other public servants.