Leader Blues

Thursday, July 27, 2006

TOP STORY>>Police on the alert for shoplifters

Leader staff writer

Wal-Mart’s recent decision not to prosecute first-time shoplifters between the ages of 18 and 65 for taking merchandise less than $25 is supposed to help the Bentonville-based big-box store concentrate anti-crime efforts on organized theft rings.

Critics say the company is trying to save labor costs and reduce criticism from police departments about a high number of shoplifting calls.

Sgt. Brent Lucas of the Cabot Police Department estimates officers respond to shoplifters at the Wal-Mart Supercenter on Rockwood Dr. at least once a week.

“I don’t think the new policy is going to make much difference,” Lucas told The Leader.

When he was a patrolman, Lucas saw shoplifters take everything from electronics to hair coloring kits.

“The few dollars people think they’re ‘saving’ by stealing is nothing compared to the thousands of dollars in fines if they get caught,” Lucas said.

Locally, a co-manager for Wal-Mart Supercenter in Jacksonville declined comment but referred The Leader to the home office’s public information office.

Marisa Bluestone, spokesperson for Wal-Mart, told The Leader that the shoplifting plan was implemented “a few months back.”

Bluestone also indicated that Wal-Mart is not giving thieves a green light, though.

“Everyone (who dabbles in shoplifting) will still be more likely to be busted here than anywhere else,” Bluestone explained. “We’re pretty good at catching thieves.”

Capt. Charley Jenkins, public information officer for the Jacksonville Police Department, was unaware of the Wal-Mart’s policy change in dealing with shoplifters.

Jenkins said he had not heard of any official notification and the store was not required to give any.

“It’s their decision, but when we get a call for service, we will answer it,” Jenkins said.

This past weekend, the Jack-sonville police station did not have incident or arrest reports involving shoplifting activities at the Wal-Mart Supercenter on John Harden Drive.

“Probably, Wal-Mart has the lion’s share of it (shoplifting),” Jenkins said. He estimated the number of shoplifting incidents at the local Wal-Mart Supercenter at more than 50 percent of those in other stores in Jacksonville.

Two attributes of the store may also contribute to the amount of activity.

“One factor is they are the largest store in town, and it’s the only 24-hour store we have,” Jenkins said.

A portion of an official statement from Wal-Mart states, “To be clear, we will continue to prosecute shoplifters to the full extent of the law. We are putting our prosecution policies in line with other retailers and reducing the burden on local police…”

“We’re concentrating our resources on organized theft rings and high-dollar losses,” Wal-Mart spokesman John Simley told the Associated Press. “It simply is not efficient to prosecute most petty shoplifters at the expense of those high-dollar items.”