A few Twin Cities Walmart stores are displacing security costs on the public, according to Rep. Mike Nelson (DFL-Brooklyn Park) and Rep. John Lesch (DFL-St. Paul). Rather than hiring their own private security to deal with low-level crimes such as theft and shoplifting, they rely on city police forces for their security needs at the public’s expense, they said.
“Right now, Walmart is consuming an inordinate share of [city] resources, and that’s why it needs to be addressed,” Lesch said.
“They’re the problem child in Minnesota retail,” Lesch said.
Walmart locations in St. Paul, Bloomington, Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park made 4,958 calls to police between Oct. 1, 2015 and Oct. 1, 2016, at a total public cost estimated to be slightly more than $3 million.
Of these stores, the St. Paul location made 2,129 calls, Bloomington made 1,250, Brooklyn Center made 1,099, and Brooklyn Park made 480.
“A lot of the time, when Walmart comes into cities, they ask for tax breaks, they ask for other incentives so they can build there, and their thing is, ‘Well, we’re going to provide jobs,’” Nelson said. “Well, they’re not providing that many jobs, they’re not providing well-paying jobs, and then they’re dumping their security problems back on the city resources,” he said.
“It’s astonishing how much these two stores, one in Brooklyn Center and one in Brooklyn Park, draw the resources of our cities,” Nelson said.
“No retailer is immune to the challenge of crime, and we are investing in people and technology to support our stores,” Walmart wrote in a statement.
“The important reason why this is a statewide issue and why the Legislature needs to address this, is because Walmart is such a large actor that the average municipality does not have the resources and sophistication to combat their tactics,” Lesch said. “This has happened around the country, when they refer their employees instead of paying for health insurance, they refer their employees out to the taxpayer dime to pay for health care,” he said.
They want to see Walmart hire more private security and reduce the number of calls they make to police departments, Lesch said.
Nelson and Lesch will be seeking a legislative hearing to bring in police chiefs and city government to hear their perspective, Lesch said.
Other states have addressed this issue, but have not succeeded in passing any legislation, Lesch said. However, smaller, piecemeal efforts have succeeded, he said.
“The resource burden tends to fall at the local level, so there have been municipalities across the nation that have done those,” he said.
Walmart has a program it calls Restorative Justice that diverts first time offenders away from the court system, which is administered by third-party vendors like Corrective Education Company. Participants in the program take an educational course.
Lesch said that thisin-house, private justice programoffers a fee structure the alleged shoplifters can pay instead of going to court. He said the lack of government oversight and due process is problematic, and Walmart has not disclosed how often these programs are or are not used in the state. Walmart also has not disclosed the cost of the program for participants.
“This should cause anyone in the criminal justice system grave concern,” Lesch said.
“We’re encouraged by a 35 percent reduction in calls to law enforcement agencies nationwide, on average, since we began implimenting crime deterrence programs like Restorative Justice and More at the Door,” Walmart wrote in a statement. More at the Door is an effort by Walmart to increase staffing at the front of the store to deter shoplifters. “We’ll continue our outreach to law enforcement in Minnesota and across the courty as part of our ongoing commitment to meet our customers’ and associates’ expectations of a safe and enjoyable shopping experience,” the statement read.
“They say it’s a restorative justice program, but it’s anything but that,” said Kathleen Woodruff, general organizer for Making Change at Walmart, a campaign run by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. “They essentially bring someone back into a room and intimidate them into signing a statement of guilt and paying $500 within three months,” she said.
CEC has been sued by the San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera for false imprisonment and extortion.
“I just really feel that Walmart needs to step up as the largest employer in the nation, that makes billions of dollars in profit, my taxpayer dollars should not be going to subsidize their bottom line,” said Brooklyn Park resident and Human Rights Commission Chair Linda Freemon. “They should not be sponging off the community where they do business.”
Lesch said unlike some other big box retailers, Walmart doesn’t seem interested in deterring shoplifting.
“They just say, ‘Well, you know, if this happens to us, we’ll chalk this up as a loss and call municipal resources to deal with it where we can,” he said.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union released a TV commercial condemning Walmart and its security practices Dec. 15.
Contact Kevin Miller at [email protected]