'Justice' in store: Lawmaker pushes back against Walmart program
Walmart's "loss prevention people are great out there"
The Hastings Walmart began using the Crime Accountability Partnership program, a TPJ and NASP collaboration, in December 2016 with a goal of reducing the time and cost associated with low-level retail theft offenses.
A spokeswoman said the program seeks to benefit all parties involved, including the retailers, law enforcement and prosecutors, the community and the offenders.
"All the people who are involved in this ... everybody has to contribute effort and reap the benefits in equal measure," said Barbara Staib, director of communication for NASP and CAP.
"Part of taking responsibility for your actions is paying the cost for your own rehabilitation," Staib said.
The CAP program recognizes that people sometimes make mistakes and poor choices. First-time offenders get a second chance and through the education component they can ask themselves why they decided to shoplift if they knew it was wrong.
The program takes about four hours to complete and is available online or by mail. There are quizzes involved and offenders must reach a certain level to demonstrate that they have retained the information provided to them.
The offenders who qualify to use the CAP program in lieu of being entered into the criminal justice system are first-time offenders who committed a theft at the misdemeanor level. It depends on the community, but Staib said misdemeanor-level offenses typically involve merchandise valued from $350 to $500 or less.
Staib said there are five criteria recognized by the CAP program; however, there is flexibility for a retailer and law enforcement agency to add more specific criteria in their community. The criteria are: that the offender is not violent; does not have alcohol or drugs; is not part of organized crime; does not have a known prior offense; and has parental consent to do the program if the offender is a juvenile.
The high call load to Walmart may have an impact on the police department, but Schafer said the employees of Walmart create a smooth process for the officers when they may need to make an arrest or take some action.
"The loss prevention people are great out there, they work hand in hand with our cops," Schafer said.
'Hosts' as deterrents
Company officials also point to a 2016 initiative that's aimed at beefing up crime deterrence at Walmart.
Since launching the "More at the Door" effort, 9,000 new "customer hosts" have been added to Walmart's Supercenter stores, where the yellow vest-clad workers greet customers, check receipts and keep the entrances clean, among other things.
Walmart spokesman Dickens said those workers have also received special training to help deter shoplifting
"They're getting the standard asset protection training to allow them to know what they're looking for and how to handle a situation if they encounter it," Dickens said.
Woodbury Public Safety Director Lee Vague lauded efforts like More at the Door, saying one key to reducing shoplifting is ensuring all floor employees are keeping their eyes peeled for suspicious activity.
"Everybody has a piece of that" investment, he said.
Dickens said 40 stores in the Minnesota-Wisconsin area have taken part in the More at the Door program. That's resulted in a 24 percent reduction in shoplifting at those stores, according to the company.
"It absolutely does" make a difference, Dickens said. "There's a direct connection."
In addition to crime-deterrence training they receive, he said the presence of the "customer hosts" adds a "mental aspect" that can ward off would-be shoplifters.
While the company manages internal policies toward crime, its store-level staff maintain regular contact with law enforcement — a relationship that both sides say has been effective.
In Woodbury, Vague said he's encouraged by the communication between his officers and security staff at stores like Walmart. If there's one thing Vague said he doesn't want, it's an us-versus-them scenario.
"We want them to call us," he said.
Adam Sack, a Woodbury patrol officer who specializes in retail crime, said he's in touch with security staff at local stores as much as possible. It helps to stay in touch with those stores since corporate policies, management and staff are in constant flux.
"That's why it's good for me to get to know them ahead of time," he said.
Sack called the Woodbury Walmart security team "stellar." That's a bonus, he said, when dealing with suspects who often tell him they think stealing from the suburbs is easy. Woodbury takes a hard stance on shoplifting and sends suspects to jail, Sack said.
In Cottage Grove, the Walmart security staff have cellphone numbers for local cops at the ready. Public Safety Director Craig Woolery said that, too, is the sign of a positive relationship and that the company is prioritizing public safety.
"It's definitely on their radar," he said.
Dickens said that while the company doesn't publicly discuss its policies, "we do rely on our asset protection teams inside of the store and are grateful to work with local law enforcement as necessary.