Is Walmart passing its crime buck to local governments?

Discussion
Photo: Getty Images
Aug 18, 2016
George Anderson

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.

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?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"[It's been] estimated that taxpayers foot $153 billion in public assistance bills for them. It’s time to force the the issue."
"Walmart can no longer cut costs by expecting the public sector to cover the shortfall."
"Oh yeah! Another chance for anti-Walmartites to beat on the company that makes life much better for millions."

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15 Comments on "Is Walmart passing its crime buck to local governments?"


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Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

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.

Max Goldberg
Guest

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.

Frank Riso
BrainTrust

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.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

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.

Gary Doyle
Guest
4 years 5 months ago
Couldn’t find any Bloomberg article or for that matter any article that quotes $153 billion. I did find a Forbes 2014 article quoting a study done by Americans for Tax Fairness, a coalition of 400 national and state level progressive groups, estimating that Walmart workers cost taxpayers $6.2 billion in welfare and other social benefits. One thing for sure, there was no estimate of the cost of those same workers if they were not employed. Surely more than the $6.2 billion quoted in the estimate. Also left out is the share of city revenue contributed by Walmart and as others have suggested, the share of city crime committed in or near Walmart. My thought is straightforward. Let’s look at all of the facts before we condemn or praise. The one thing I am sure of is that Walmart’s in-stock performance and overall customer service suggest that better trained, more experienced and better performing employees are needed. But then, what of the opportunity for those without the experience or skills. Where do they get an opportunity… Read more »
Tom Redd
Guest

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!

Tom Brown
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

I am no fan of Walmart, but wouldn’t police departments be saving money if crimes are committed in a more centralized location?

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

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.

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

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.

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

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.

Christopher P. Ramey
BrainTrust

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.

David Livingston
Guest
4 years 5 months ago
I was just in a Walmart that experienced a hostage/murder in its store. Sales dropped from $112 million to $95 million per year. I’ve been to others that have experienced as much as $10 million a year in theft. We have seen high volume Walmart stores close due to crime. It’s not just Walmart. We saw the #1 Super Kmart in the USA close in Dearborn Michigan for similar reason. I’ve met many loss prevention managers at Walmart. Believe me, they have a very difficult job. In really difficult areas, Walmart is no longer 24 hours but shuts down at midnight. Sometimes 10 pm if it’s really bad. Get rid of the self checkouts. Walmart has done this in high crime areas along with closing down the second entrance at 8pm. I really hate to see armed guards because if security does have a gun, someone will be shot, I can guarantee it. In my opinion, Walmart is just going to have to fund a policeman on duty at all times in the store. Not… Read more »
Brian Kelly
Guest
4 years 5 months ago
I spent plenty of time chasing shoplifters and going to court while managing retail stores on the finest streets in America. So here goes…. Since the 1980s, Walmart is the town center of many towns in the US. Their store locations are based upon the HHI surrounding the store. WMT is the store of choice for those with lower HHI. Often times, it is the only choice. Due to job elimination in rural areas where factories and mines are shuttered, this is even more the case today. Remember, they owned rural markets before heading into the cities. In those markets, they remain open to accommodate shift workers. So most are open late at night, when nothing else is open. Walmart is the location where crime will occur as it is where there is money either in the pocket book of its customers or as inventory on the shelf. It’s the old bank robber story, “I rob banks because that is where the money is.” Like the opioid/meth crisis, this issue is huge and it’s not… Read more »
Craig Sundstrom
Guest

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.

Mark Heckman
BrainTrust

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.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"[It's been] estimated that taxpayers foot $153 billion in public assistance bills for them. It’s time to force the the issue."
"Walmart can no longer cut costs by expecting the public sector to cover the shortfall."
"Oh yeah! Another chance for anti-Walmartites to beat on the company that makes life much better for millions."

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