In May of 2006, the group Wake Up Wal-Mart released a national study on Wal-Mart and crime, entitled “Is Wal-Mart Safe?” This report analyzed the official 2004 police incident reports (i.e. calls for police service) at 551 Wal-Mart store locations. The study found that in 2004 police received 148,331 calls for service for the 551 Wal-Mart stores analyzed, averaging 269 reported police incidents per store. For just the 551 stores sampled, there were 2,909 reported police calls for “violent or serious crimes,” including 4 homicides, 9 rapes or attempts, 23 kidnappings or attempts, 154 sex crimes, 550 robberies or attempts and 1,024 auto thefts. Based on the number of reported police incidents for the sample, it is estimated police responded to nearly 1 million police incidents at Wal-Mart in 2004 costing taxpayers $77 million annually. Wake Up Wal0-Mart said, “Wal-Mart stores have a significantly higher number of reported police incidents than nearby Target stores. For the sample, the average rate of reported police incidents at Wal-Mart stores was 400% higher than the average rate of incidents at nearby Target stores.” This past week, the Canton Repository newspaper in Canton, Ohio wrote about the rising prominence of crime at big box stores like Wal-Mart. The newspaper found that in the first six months of 2008, the Canton police responded to incidents at the city’s two Wal-Marts a total of 425 times. Police reports show both 24-hour stores experienced a wide variety of criminal activity, from forged checks to armed robbery. A Canton police officer was seriously injured after being attacked by a Wal-Mart customer brandishing a baseball bat in June. Between Jan. 1 and June 30, the police had to go to the Wal-Mart on Atlantic Blvd. 275 times. The majority of those calls — 150 — were for shoplifters. That’s roughly 1.5 police visits every day at that one location. The Wal-Mart on Tuscarawas St. required another 150 visits, of which, just over 40 were for shoplifting. Total police visits from the two stores averaged 2.3 per day. “They’re a high-maintenance business for the police department,” Canton Police Chief Dean McKimm told The Repository. High police reports turn into an increased burden at the Canton Municipal Courts. One court administrator suggested that an additional bailiff may have to be hired to handle the increased level of misdemeanors. Since last year, Ohio now allows the cops to give shoplifters a ticket, instead of sending such people to jail. That means bailiffs have to handle the ‘booking’ process. “This has impacted us significantly over the last 6 months to the point where we are looking at hiring a booking officer, or booking bailiff to do fingerprints and transmit the arrest information to the state,” the court administrator said. A Canton Prosecutor told the newspaper that the high number of police calls to Wal-Mart has required them to rethink the whole process. “We’re trying to determine whether we can modify the policy as to whether they or the police officer can initiate charges,” he said. “We’re looking at the issue and trying to come up with a resolution that will free up the officers for other serious crimes.” The Repository says that Wal-Mart admits crime at its store is a big problem. “Unfortunately, criminal activity occurs in every community, and it is something every retailer — especially large retailers — must face and work with local officials to alleviate,” a Wal-Mart spokesman in Arkansas told the newspaper. “On a store-by-store basis, we carefully consider the number and quality of our security and crime-prevention measures, and we continually strive to continue to deter crime in our stores and parking lots. The aggressive, proactive safety measures we employ work. They’ve helped us prevent and interrupt crimes, and they’ve helped our associates and managers become more vigilant and aware of potential criminal activity in our stores. We have been successful in detaining people who break the law and steal from our store, as well as from other stores and residents in our community. We appreciate the partnership we have with the local police to identify these people, prosecute them and help make our community safer.” Despite these assurances, the crime problem at Wal-Marts in Ohio stretches far beyond Canton, according to The Repository’s research. In nearby Jackson township, Ohio, Police Chief Harley Neftzer counted 28 incident reports out of 104 calls to the Wal-Mart, which is not open 24 hours. Police also went out 16 times to Target. In Massillon, Ohio, the police had to investigate reports at the 24-hour Wal-Mart 61 times in the first six months of this year.
Most public officials shrug off the issue of the cost of all this crime to their community. When Wal-Mart comes to town, they tout how much they will pay in property or sales tax — but they never mention the added financial burden that police and fire incidents impose on local taxpayers. One Lieutenant in the Canton Police Department acknowledged, “it does occupy a lot of our time. Both stores keep us busy. Wal-Mart attracts a lot of people, and any time you have a lot of people, you’re going to attract a lot of people problems. They need to have their people out there doing what they do.” The Lieutenant admitted that Wal-Mart, in particular, generates more calls for police assistance more frequently than any other business in the city. “Not even our ‘trouble bar’ calls can come close,” he said. To download the national crime study “Is Wal-Mart Safe?” and the official police incident reports, go to www.WalMartCrimeReport.com. After this report was issued, Wake Up Wal-Mart posed eight questions to Wal-Mart: 1) Why won’t Wal-Mart release its own internal statistics about crime at Wal-Mart stores? 2) Why won’t Wal-Mart release the number of Wal-Mart stores that have security patrols in the parking lot and monitored surveillance cameras? 3) If Wal-Mart is going to criticize our study, why won’t Wal-Mart conduct an independent review of crime at all of its stores? 4) According to Wal-Mart the company uses demographic and crime statistic information from the local area to determine what safety measures are necessary, why won’t Wal-Mart release this information? What is the decision making process? Is there a review process based on an increased number of crimes at the store 5) Does Wal-Mart maintain crime statistics for each of its stores? If not, why not and isn’t Wal-Mart interested in the safety of its customers, workers and the community? 6) Is Wal-Mart still currently testing any crime reduction initiatives like roving security patrols? What are the results of these studies and what has Wal-Mart done to implement successful solutions? 7) Who is in charge of tracking crime at Wal-Mart stores? 8) Why is Wal-Mart so afraid of transparency with the public and members of the media about crime at its stores? Doesn’t Wal-Mart think its customers have a right to know about public safety at Wal-Mart’s stores? Readers with a Wal-Mart in their community are urged to contact your local police department, and ask for a print out of the incident reports for the Wal-Mart store location in your area for the first half of 2008, or for the full year 2007 period. If your local police cannot provide such information, file a public records request with your city or town clerk. Once you have this data, write a letter to the editor revealing the results, and send a copy to your local city or town council or Mayor.