Welcome to Walmart, Crime Capital of America
Cops are pushing back against the retailer’s refusal to pay to protect itself
According to an astonishing report in Bloomberg Businessweek about Walmart, the mega-store has an mega-problem with everything ranging from petty thievery to meth labs and even murder. I guess that’s what happens when you take over America: you become America. Everything that’s wrong with it, anyway.
It’s not unusual for the [police] department to send a van to transport all the criminals [Tulsa officer] Ross arrests at this Walmart. The call log on the store stretches 126 pages, documenting more than 5,000 trips over the past five years. … Police reports from dozens of stores suggest the number of petty crimes committed on Walmart properties nationwide this year will be in the hundreds of thousands. But people dashing out the door with merchandise is the least troubling part of Walmart’s crime problem. More than 200 violent crimes, including attempted kidnappings and multiple stabbings, shootings, and murders, have occurred at the nation’s 4,500 Walmarts this year, or about one a day, according to an analysis of media reports.
BB argues that this is all a direct result of Walmart’s intensive cost-cutting policies: “For criminals, however, the cutbacks were like sending out a message that no one at Walmart cared, no one was watching, and no one was likely to catch you.” Crime isn’t a natural cost of doing big-box business: Target, which is in many ways a similar store, manages to stay far safer.
While Walmart, which is under relatively new leadership, argues that it has instituted new policies that have already had an ameliorative effect, America’s exhausted cops aren’t buying it.
Ross likes to joke that the concentration of crime at Walmart makes his job easier. “I’ve got all my bad guys in one place,” he says, flashing a bright smile. His squad’s sergeant, Robert Rohloff, a 34-year police veteran who has to worry about staffing, budgets, and patrolling the busiest commercial district in Tulsa, says there’s nothing funny about Walmart’s impact on public safety. He can’t believe, he says, that a multibillion-dollar corporation isn’t doing more to stop crime. Instead, he says, it offloads the job to the police at taxpayers’ expense. “It’s ridiculous — we are talking about the biggest retailer in the world,” says Rohloff. “I may have half my squad there for hours.”
Wait a minute. Walmart? The multibillion-dollar corporation that somehow can’t pay employees a living wage or give their workers the kind of health insurance that could keep them from going broke, assuming they get health insurance at all — the corporation about which a reporter for Forbes recently wrote, “Walmart’s low-wage workers cost U.S. taxpayers an estimated $6.2 billion in public assistance including food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized housing” — that Walmart is assuming taxpayers will also pick up the tab for crime prevention?
I am shocked.
Anyway. There are straightforward fixes, according to experts quoted in the piece, including re-hiring a lot of the staffers that the corporation laid off over the years, or investing in security guards, or in better tech, but Walmart is resistant to anything that cuts into its profits (“Walmart rejects this view, saying it has all the workers it needs and merely has to better train them and continue redeploying workers according to its plan”). While they’re sorting this out, if anything bad happens to you in a Walmart, well, you can always sue, or get a media-savvy sheriff involved who is willing to threaten the company with a fine of $2,500 for every store-related call to 911.
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