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Walmart generates far more police calls then comparable stores in the Portland area, matching reports from cities across America.
PORTLAND, Ore. – Walmart stores are hubs of activity, where shoppers can buy everything from food to clothing to electronics.
They’re also a hotspot for police calls. In Vancouver, Washington, there were more police calls to the Walmart at Northeast 104th Avenue than any other one location in the city in 2015. It was nearly twice the number of calls as the second-highest location, Vancouver Mall.
Compared to Fred Meyer, Walmart stores generate more than twice as many calls on average in the Portland metro area.
In Multnomah, Washington and Clark counties, police were called to Walmart on average of 803 times a year, compared to 374 for nearby Fred Meyers. And one store isn't skewing the data. Every single Walmart generated significantly more calls than the nearest Fred Meyer.
Police departments are already strapped for time and the calls cost taxpayers, who foot the bill.
In the Portland metro area, officials at several police departments said the calls are not a significant burden and not every call is a report of a shoplifter.
“We have enough time to handle those calls because they really don’t take that much time for the officer,” said Chief Bob Richardson of the Battle Ground Police Department.
But this isn’t just a local issue, and police departments in other cities say it’s putting a strain on officers.
Across the country, Walmart generates a disproportionate number of police calls.
The Tampa Bay Times found Walmarts in four Florida counties generated four times as many calls as Target stores.
9News in Denver found Walmart was one of the top generators of police calls in the city and surrounding areas.
In Tulsa, Okla., there’s an officer known as “Officer Walmart” because his job is to police the local Walmart, according to a Bloomberg report.
“We have teams in place that are there to deter and prevent and stop shoplifters, but they are not law enforcement,” said Erica Jones, spokeswoman for Walmart. “If someone is stopped shoplifting or committing a crime at our store, we will call police.”
Jones said the company has launched programs at Walmarts around the country, including Portland-area stores, to reduce calls.
“We’ve enacted preventative measures here in the past few months including a program called ‘More at the Door,’ which bolsters a presence at the front of the store to deter criminal activity,” she said.
Walmart also started a program called “Restorative Justice.” First-time shoplifters can choose to participate in an educational program instead of dealing with police.
Jones said the programs reduced police calls by 40 percent in the first store they studied.
The Restorative Justice program is not without critics. Time Magazine reported that a company Walmart hired to give the courses is being sued for overcharging and false imprisonment. The article also questioned the ethics of forcing shoplifters to choose between paying money or face the possibility of an arrest.
It’s unknown whether Fred Meyer has enacted similar programs or if there are just fewer crimes committed at the stores. A spokeswoman for Fred Meyer said the company does not publicly discuss its security measures.
Jones says Walmart hopes the new programs help ease the burden on local police departments, including the ones in the Portland area.
“We don’t want people in our stores or the community for the wrong reasons,” she said. “We value our partnerships with law enforcement agencies and if there is some way we can enact some measure in our stores that can either prevent crime or reduce those calls for police service to our stores then we’re going to look at those and do what it is that we can.”
Published August 22, 2016.