By Al Norman
In Atlanta, Georgia, a 53 year old black man is beaten and handcuffed by an off-duty cop working for Wal-Mart, for allegedly stealing a 38 cent tomato. When the shopper produced a receipt, the charges against him were dropped. He is now suing Wal-Mart.
A random incident?
Research published this week by the Tampa Bay Times reveals stunning statistics from 2014: 53 Wal-Mart stores in 3 Florida Counties (Hillsborough, Pasco, and Hernando) generated a paddy wagon caravan of 16,800 police reports in one year alone.
That's two calls an hour, every hour, every day. "The calls eat up hours of officer's time," the newspaper reports. "They all start at one place." One sheriff told the newspaper, "It is a tremendous strain on manpower."
Over the years, Sprawl-Busters has reported on the crime wave at Wal-Mart stores. In 1999, my first book Slam-Dunking Wal-Mart contained a chapter on Wal-Mart crime, and the retailer's efforts to put a lid on publicity about the problem. In April of 1999, a Texas Judge fined Wal-Mart $18 million for blocking discovery in the case of a woman who was kidnapped from a Wal-Mart parking lot, and raped. The company later apologized through its lawyer for the company's "misguided conduct" during the rape case.
In May of 2006, a labor group called Wake Up Wal-Mart released a national study on Wal-Mart and crime. The study, entitled Is Wal-Mart Safe? analyzed police incident reports from 2004 at 551 Wal-Mart store locations. According to the group's analysis:
• In 2004, police received 148,331 calls for service at 551 Wal-Mart stores in the study, averaging 269 reported police incidents per store.
• For 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.
A dozen years later, not much has changed. The Tampa Bay Times calculates that Wal-Mart, on average, produce four times as many calls as nearby Target stores. The newspaper said the retailer has been criticized "for shifting too much of its security burden onto taxpayers. Several local law enforcement officers also emphasized that all the hours spent at Wal-Mart cut into how often they can patrol other neighborhoods and prevent other crimes."
"They're a huge problem in terms of the amount of time that's spent there," a Tampa police officer admitted. "We are, as a department, at the mercy of what they want to do."
"Officers know Wal-Mart is such a regular trouble spot that they routinely show up without being called," the newspaper said. On top of the 16,800 incident reports, The Times estimated another 6,200 routine visits were made to prevent crimes---all of this chewing up police time and costing the taxpayer money. "It was almost like they [the police] were kind of just waiting to get a call," one former Wal-Mart employee said..
The Times notes that Wal-Mart's "are natural targets for shoplifters...Wal-Mart lays out its stores in a way that invites trouble and often doesn't have enough uniformed employees to make sure everything runs smoothly." One retail analyst told The Times, "Law enforcement becomes in effect a taxpayer-paid private security source for Wal-Mart."
Sprawl-Busters has chronicled on Facebook and Twitter "the body count" at Wal-Mart, a running thread of violent incidents involving alleged shoplifters and Wal-Mart loss prevention staff or local cops. Tragic deaths have occurred for merchandise worth less than $30. The Times suggests that Wal-Mart is not adequately protecting its stores or its shoppers. The newspaper says the retailer should "hire more uniformed security guards."
The Times compared Wal-Mart's share of police calls to its share of all the property taxes paid in four cities. Their research found that "Wal-Mart's slice of calls was consistently larger than its slice of tax payments. Much larger."
Hundreds of cities and town across the nation are losing money protecting Wal-Mart's merchandise. It's just another example of public welfare for America's richest family.
Al Norman is the founder of Sprawl-Busters. He has been helping communities fight big box sprawl for the past 23 years. His most recent book is Occupy Wal-Mart.