Walmart Trying To Cut Back On Calls To Cops By Offering Small-Time Shoplifters Chance To Reform

Image courtesy of Ben Schumin

Police who work near any large retail store are probably all too familiar with responding to calls for shoppers caught trying to make off with a pack of socks or a pilfered Pepsi. A test program at Walmart aims to reduce these nuisance calls by giving small-time shoplifters a second chance.

News reports out of Tampa indicate that the retailer is trying out a “diversion” program at two stores in the area, with plans of expanding it elsewhere in the region.

The program is operated by Turning Point Justice and the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention. Rather than call the cops on every shopper stopped with a copy of Us Weekly in their pants, the stores are allowing perpetrators of low-dollar theft to avoid handcuffs by volunteering to pay restitution and possibly taking an online class to learn about the impact of these crimes.

This week, the Tampa City Council asked a representative from the city’s police department if the program is indeed having any effect on how frequently officers have to respond to incidents at these Walmarts.

According to the officer, police responded to one of the Walmarts 294 times in the first four months of 2016. While that might seem like an extraordinary amount, police say it’s a nearly 40% reduction from the 486 times police visited this store during the same time period a year earlier.

Likewise, calls to the police at the other Tampa test store experienced a year-over-year drop from 1,229 calls to only 703 calls during this four-month period.

Police note that some of the calls included in these stats include “self-initiated” responses from officers who were already on site because of routine patrols.

Some have accused Walmart of leaning too heavily on local police after a May 2016 Tampa Bay Times report found that stores in four Tampa-area counties (Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando) account for nearly 16,800 calls to law enforcement a year. Additionally, that report found that other big box stores like Target were only making a fraction of such calls.

The data presented at this week’s city council meeting seemed to indicate that the drops in police calls at the two test stores was not a fluke, as police calls to all other area Walmarts increased by as much as 10% at one store.

As for the expansion of this program, a Walmart rep tells the Times, “We’re always looking at rolling out the program where it makes sense… There may be stores in the area that will get it in the future.”

Walmart program is reducing calls to service for Tampa Police [ABC Action News]

Police say Walmart program is reducing arrests, but one Tampa City Council member is not satisfied [Tampa Bay Times]