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Everybody loves Walmart, or at least all right-thinking Americans do. They especially love Walmart's low, low prices, which demonstrate the efficiency of the Free Market and the art of the deal. Of course, to think Walmart is an avatar of capitalism at its best, you have to conveniently ignore the reality that Walmart achieves its low, low prices by paying its employees so little that workers often have to rely on public assistance for food, housing, and health care (if any), which is not exactly the story of independent capitalist striving the free marketeers would like us to believe. Walmart makes terrific privatized profits by farming out a lot of its costs to the public, which may be a very clever grift, but it sure ain't Pure Capitalism. Now, thanks to a major investigation by the Tampa Bay Times, we also know another area where Walmart is happy to take public assistance to keep its costs low: rather than paying for adequate security, Walmart relies on an outsized number of calls to the police to take care of everything from shoplifting to getting rid of snotty teenagers hanging out in front of its stores.

The investigation looked only at calls to police from Walmarts in the Tampa Bay area, but there's no reason to think the situation is significantly different anywhere else; the reporters found that in a four-county area, police and sheriff's departments responded to nearly 16,800 calls in a single year.

Local Walmarts, on average, generated four times as many calls as nearby Targets, the Times found. Many individual supercenters attracted more calls than the much larger WestShore Plaza mall.

When it comes to calling the cops, Walmart is such an outlier compared with its competitors that experts criticized the corporate giant for shifting too much of its security burden onto taxpayers. Several local law enforcement officers also emphasized that all the hours spent at Walmart cut into how often they can patrol other neighborhoods and prevent other crimes.

The area's 53 Walmart stores generated more calls than any other business -- not only because there are a lot of Walmarts, but also in comparison to the number of calls per amount of retail space. Out of all those over 16,000 calls, not a lot of them were for what you could call serious crime:

Officers logged fewer than 500 calls for violence, drugs or weapons. They took roughly another 7,000 calls for potential thefts. An even bigger category was general disorder, everything from suspected trespassing to parking violations, lost property and people sleeping outside stores. Those roughly 9,000 calls consumed hundreds of hours of officers’ time, but resulted in just a few hundred arrests.

Also, since law enforcement already knows Walmarts are trouble spots, officers regularly go to the supercenters without even being called -- more or less acting as taxpayer-funded security guards. Dispatch records showed another "6,200 of these unsolicited visits on top of the 16,800 other calls." It's a heck of a service the public is paying for, while other stores lay out money for their own security, the fools.

To make matters worse, Walmarts often lay out their stores badly and don't have any uniformed security on site, practically inviting shoplifting, because after all, if an employee sees someone grabbing a cheap pair of earphones, they can always call the cops. Why bother paying for security when local taxpayers will do it? Since the company depends on very small profit margins on each item sold, Walmart tries to cut corners wherever possible, and if that means calling the police for every shoplifting incident, well, great! And so the police get called in for stuff that could be taken care of by Paul Blart, if Walmart would only hire a few Paul Blarts:

Of the 7,000 calls in Tampa Bay in 2014 for suspected thefts, many were for items totaling less than $300, the threshold for when petty theft becomes grand theft. The Times found calls for items worth much less — a $10 gas can, $3 eye drops, $2 chocolates.

Another 9,000 calls were for basic disorder, everything from dealing with the drunk man talking loudly at the deli to checking on juveniles suspected of skipping school [...]

“Law enforcement becomes in effect a taxpayer-paid private security source for Walmart,” said New York-based leading retail analyst Burt Flickinger.

Walmart certainly makes enough money to be able to afford private uniformed security guards, whose mere presence deters theft. But it's even cheaper to let police handle most of those functions. It certainly didn't take an investigative report by a local paper to bring the problem to law enforcement's attention:

Hillsborough sheriff’s deputies ended up at a Walmart on Fletcher Avenue more than any other location. What came second? Another Walmart. What was third? Another Walmart. In fact, seven of the Sheriff’s Office’s 10 busiest locations were Walmarts.

“It is a tremendous strain on manpower,” Sheriff’s Col. Greg Brown wrote in an email to the Times.

Outside Florida, some law enforcement agencies are getting tired of being called out to Walmart for every little thing; the police chief of Beech Grove, Indiana, "once deemed the local Walmart a nuisance and threatened it with fines of up to $2,500 for every small shoplifting call." Within three months, the number of calls from that store had dropped by two thirds. But when police in Port Richey, Florida, suggested to the local Walmart that it hire off-duty officers to provide security, the company never got back to them.

And then there are the beautiful examples of how calls from Walmart eat up police time and public funds:

In August, a Walmart employee called the [Port Richey police] department after a 33-year-old man stole a $6.39 electric toothbrush. The officer arrived in three minutes, talked to a Walmart employee, arrested the man, and then made the 19-mile trip to the Land O’Lakes jail. After finishing the paperwork, the officer was free to take another call.

Total elapsed time: 2 ½ hours.

Assistant Police Chief William Ferguson is fed up with the amount of time and funds Walmart demands, pointing out that all those calls from Walmart are taking his officers away from protecting other neighborhoods and businesses:

“They can’t do that when they’re spending God knows how many hours at Walmart,” he said.

“It’s almost like we’re Walmart’s personal police transportation agency.”

And then there's the astonishing difference between Walmart and Target stores in the same areas: in one jurisdiction, 10 Walmarts generated 5,100 calls to law enforcement in a year, while 10 Targets only had 1,100 calls. Target stores tended to have more uniformed security guards, go figure.

Like so many other investigative pieces by the Tampa Bay Times, the article is an outstanding example of local journalism done thoroughly and right. It's a hell of a read, and if there's any justice in the world -- don't worry, there isn't -- it might generate pressure on Walmart to start taking care of its own goddamned security and stop being so dependent on taxpayers. Hahaha, we are kidding, people only get outraged at welfare recipients who shop at Walmart. We're fine with throwing our Precious Tax Dollars at the welfare bums who run the place.

Srsly, go read the whole thing, then come back here to yell at Walmart.

[Tampa Bay Times]

Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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