Big box stores come with a big public price tag. Many communities learn this the hard way. About a month ago, the Planning Board in the small town of Epping, New Hampshire told Wal-Mart that their 203,000 s.f. superstore could not remain open 24 hours a day. Reason? Local officials said the demands placed on local police responding to Wal-Mart calls were taking away from their duties in other parts of the town. Wal-Mart said it would not fight the ruling. “We’re disappointed for our customers,” a Wal-Mart spokesperson told the Union-Leader, ” that we won’t be able to make the store available for them. So many people are working so hard throughout the holidays, and they really need those extra hours to shop.” The problem for the town, however, was the extra hours the cops were putting in at the local Wal-Mart. Epping police Lt. Mike Wallace said his department had received 266 calls to the Wal-Mart Superstore in the first 11 months of the year, mostly for theft, motor vehicle accidents and check fraud. He said emergency calls for domestic disturbances and prescription fraud are common. In 2004, the department had about 260 calls to the Wal-Mart, including a report of a sexual assault against a minor. “Because there’s a lot of time spent at Wal-Mart, the rest of the town is affected by that,” Wallace said. “There’s not as much time for direct patrols (cruiser-based police patrols). And even something as simple as someone asking us to spend 15 or 20 minutes running radar (speed patrols) on their street is now very restricted. As soon as the officer sets up, he’s being called out to the Wal-Mart for an alarm.” Epping officials said Wal-Mart has never offered the town a stipend or other financial consideration to help deal with the increased reports of crime that have followed in the wake of the store’s January 2004 opening. In nearby Plaistow, New Hampshire, Wal-Mart did compensate the town for its extra police burden. “We have limited resources,” Wallace explained, “and we can’t accommodate them, at least right now. There has to be some kind of relief if they want us to cover them 24 hours a day.” Epping officials said the cost of an officer’s salary and benefits was around $70,000 per year. But a few weeks later, Epping officials decided that instead of asking Wal-Mart (and Lowe’s) to chip in towards cop’s salary, they would ask Lowe’s to contribute shovels, rakes, paint, and other items the town would need to buy anyway. They decided to ask Wal-Mart to consider putting a police substation inside the store, so cops wouldn’t have to travel back and forth all the time. “If we get services or equipment like that, it’s the same as somebody giving us money for a police officer,” one town official told the Union-Leader. Epping has a six person police department. So far, Wal-Mart has not responded to any requests from the town, but local officials remain optimist. “Over time, it will happen,” one official said, “because there will be a need for these businesses to have something (in return). We’re not asking for a million dollars, and I think those two facilities are not doing bad, financially.”
For more examples of the cost of crime in Wal-Mart communities, see the book “The Case Against Wal-Mart.” Order by calling 1-877 DUNK WAL. Search Newsflash by “crime” to see related stories. Epping will need all the shovels it can get to handle the load of rhetoric coming out of Wal-Mart headquarters these days.