A taxpayer-paid private security source for Walmart
May 12, 2016 7:15 AM   Subscribe

The Tampa Bay Times compared police visits to the number of calls at nearby Target stores, and even to an entire mall. There were four times as many calls to Walmart, on average, compared to Target. 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. “Law enforcement becomes in effect a taxpayer-paid private security source for Walmart,” said New York-based leading retail analyst Burt Flickinger. (via)
posted by cynical pinnacle (47 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
We're already paying for their employee health care, so I guess this shouldn't be a surprise.

Thanks for posting this.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:24 AM on May 12, 2016 [32 favorites]


Meh... Police are generally able to exercise discretion to which calls they respond to. If they didn't want to respond to petty nuisance calls from Walmart, they just wouldn't do it. Also, judging by what we've seen from private store security forces, I'd really rather have them use the actual police.
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:26 AM on May 12, 2016 [7 favorites]


Just like they shift all the rest of their corporate responsibilities off to taxpayers?

Color me shocked.

Interesting graphic at the beginning, although I always sorta resent being trapped in autoplay.
posted by aspersioncast at 7:27 AM on May 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


Also, judging by what we've seen from private store security forces, I'd really rather have them use the actual police.

Except that the police are not only acting as a de facto private private store security force for Wal-Mart at taxpayer expense, but also those disproportionate number of runs consume time and resources that the police might be using to respond to other calls.

No matter which way you slice it, Wal-Mart is consuming a disproportionate share of a taxpayer-funded resource.
posted by Gelatin at 7:38 AM on May 12, 2016 [12 favorites]


Also, judging by what we've seen from private store security forces, I'd really rather have them use the actual police.

You don't think that factors into their math here? That if a local cop does something stupid, the taxpayers pay for it and they're not responsible, unlike if they were liable for a private security guard?
posted by bradbane at 7:42 AM on May 12, 2016 [23 favorites]


What's the difference between this and Communism!!!1!, where a powerful bureaucrat (in this case Greg Penner) re-directs taxpayer resources to serve his pet project?
posted by sneebler at 7:44 AM on May 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


A coworker asked his brother (a Tampa detective) about this article and got an interesting response. Basically, there's a huge number of these calls that end up with a parole violation for the offender. This requires a second call for that violation, basically doubling the number of calls. Thought that was interesting.
posted by paulcole at 7:44 AM on May 12, 2016 [6 favorites]


Previously: Yet, it is the wealthy, not the poor, who are dependent on government subsidies. To transform dependency into self-determination is the work of poor people's movements.

From this Tampa Bay article:
Stores are like neighborhoods, he said. If they look tidy, research shows, they signal that the residents are paying attention. Walmarts can feel messy and disheveled. The “chaos,” Jennings said, allows troublemakers to rationalize that the company doesn’t care. It also sends the message that they might get away with it.
Broken Windows Theory, re-written as Messy Isle Theory. If it appears no one maintains the actual inventory, will they actually notice that missing $18 audio cable?

So, instead of having their staff actually maintain the store, they pay and train people to identify potential shoplifters. I'm sure there's some return on investment calculation done here, but this sounds stupid as heck.

At my local Walmart, I've noticed they have people standing at the entrances at most hours, and they're not elderly greeters of old. Or if they're supposed to be greeters, they gave up on that aspect of their job, but I can't fault them - Walmart is a soul-crushing place to enter as a shopper, I can't imagine working there, but I understand opportunities are limited and Walmart is the largest American employer by a significant margin, if you don't look at DOD.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:46 AM on May 12, 2016 [9 favorites]


I live in an entertainment precinct that gets about 50000 guests every weekend. At the center of this is a 24 hour McDonald's, and opposite them by about fifty meters is a Police Beat, which is a small office with camera monitors and a rapid response team. I see the police carry huge trays of coffee and greasy bags of burgers into that office all the time.

The thing is, if you are drunk enough to think a 3am cheeseburger is a good idea, not only will you meet like-minded people at McDonald's, you're probably going to make some equally bad decisions.

The police have set up an outpost exactly where they need to be. I've seen them suddenly materialise and stop the inertia of violence. The poor teenager behind the counter pressed some kind of panic button and they were just there. I've seen this happen a few times, and there's obviously a system in place. I know if I were that teenager those cops would have infinite coffees, and I don't really begrudge that.
posted by adept256 at 8:10 AM on May 12, 2016 [7 favorites]


I don't think there's a good solution to the problem.

One nitpick: I don't think it's particularly useful to compare relative tax income from different retailers (in this case, Target and Walmart), because that could lead to the implication that police response should be commensurate with tax revenue, which is a place that we, as a society, shouldn't be going.
posted by tippiedog at 8:19 AM on May 12, 2016 [7 favorites]


OK, I understand why the author included the tax revenue data. As intended, it's a useful data point. But the danger is to view police response....
posted by tippiedog at 8:20 AM on May 12, 2016


I agree with your concerns about the tax revenue data, but the reason it's there is to show how WalMart is ripping off society by paying small taxes on obscene profits while off-loading a great deal of risk and external costs onto society in general.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:38 AM on May 12, 2016 [6 favorites]


Well the obvious solution is to have police charge fees for any response. No wait-that's the opposite of a solution.

Anyway, I'm not sure what solution is being proposed here: legislation requiring Walmart to have its own armed police force? Simply stop sending police to respond to incidents at Walmart? What?
posted by happyroach at 8:39 AM on May 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


I don't think you have to have a solution in order to outline a problem.
posted by avalonian at 8:57 AM on May 12, 2016 [13 favorites]


The police have set up an outpost exactly where they need to be. I've seen them suddenly materialise and stop the inertia of violence.

There's a difference between the police performing their duty to keep the peace, and the police being called upon to protect Wal-Mart's inventory at a rate four times that of other stores, including other big national chains like Target.
posted by Gelatin at 8:59 AM on May 12, 2016 [6 favorites]


Anyway, I'm not sure what solution is being proposed here: legislation requiring Walmart to have its own armed police force? Simply stop sending police to respond to incidents at Walmart? What?

They're not proposing anything, but I will:

Every year or so, each police department tallies up the number of calls and officer- and support-personnel-hours spent at and because of a particular location and reports these tallies to the local city council/county board/other taxing and legislative authority (and, of course, releases it to the general public). That authority then decides whether to levy some form of proportional tax on particular locations to account for the increased expenditures. Eventually, Walmart is actually paying for its share of the community resources it's using, or it adopts some strategy to use less of those resources, or it says "Fuck this" and closes down.

Sure, this could be misused (e.g., anti-abortion zealots calling up the cops on every minor infraction at a women's health clinic), but it would at least add a level of transparency and let people know about the externalities of those $5 swim trunks.
posted by Etrigan at 9:05 AM on May 12, 2016 [4 favorites]


Politics aside, the disheveled and understaffed condition of the store is why I got in my car and drove to other retailers, when Walmart was within walking distance of my house. If you're going to have to go somewhere else to get most of the things on your shopping list anyways, why not just skip Walmart?
posted by elizilla at 9:08 AM on May 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


If Walmart is attracting and concentrating criminals in a reliably predictable location, it sounds like they're doing half the police's work for them.
posted by perhapsolutely at 9:16 AM on May 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


if you are drunk enough to think a 3am cheeseburger is a good idea

My hangover research has indicated that it is, in fact, a good idea.
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:22 AM on May 12, 2016 [14 favorites]


3am cheeseburger is a good idea any time of day.
posted by zippy at 9:40 AM on May 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


Especially if it's from White Castle.
posted by jonmc at 9:57 AM on May 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


People who work at Wal-Mart corporate headquarters are required to bag their own trash and vacuum their own cubicles because they're too cheap to pay for full janitorial services. I find it unsurprising that they're too cheap to pay for security too.
posted by middleclasstool at 9:59 AM on May 12, 2016 [4 favorites]


People who work at Wal-Mart corporate headquarters are required to bag their own trash and vacuum their own cubicles because they're too cheap to pay for full janitorial services.

I bet that only goes for the proles. The executives have their assistants do it for them.
posted by cynical pinnacle at 10:04 AM on May 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm sure there's a pay grade distinction, yeah. I never knew anyone who worked high up though.
posted by middleclasstool at 10:18 AM on May 12, 2016


"Anyway, I'm not sure what solution is being proposed here: legislation requiring Walmart to have its own armed police force? Simply stop sending police to respond to incidents at Walmart? What?"

It's actually a super-interesting problem just in general -- for example, our local tax-exempt non-profit hospital WAY, WAY, WAY disproportionately requires police response. To a certain extent this is like, "Well, sure, I mean, you've got the biggest ER and the best trauma center, of course you get a certain number of gun shot victims whose shooter ambulance-chases them to the ER; you've got families under strain and some of them get in hallway fist fights; these are acceptable uses of police resources that on balance benefit the community and we'd expect hospitals to make some disproportionate use of police." But you start to dig into it and -- it's SO expensive that police have cut residential patrols to keep up with calls at the hospital. A lot of the "criminals" are from out of town (neighboring communities) whose taxes don't pay into the police response. The hospital itself is a $2 billion/year operation that makes over $170 million in "profit" that isn't taxed because they're "non-profit," while keeping $18 million in land (literally 1.5% of local EAV for the entire city, which is landlocked and cannot annex any further land) off the property tax rolls. That puts the city in a major bind, and what's the equitable solution? Should non-profits have to pay taxes on excess revenue? Or at least property taxes? Or a city services fee, proportional to how much land they keep off the tax rolls or how much of a service they consume? Should nearby municipalities have to pay some proportionate fee to use regional goods like an emergency room, when their use of those goods costs significant tax dollars to the host community? It's created a very problematic vicious cycle where pulling cops off patrol beats to respond to emergencies at the hospital* makes neighborhoods less-safe and more crimey, which reduces property values, which reduces tax revenue that pays for officers, so more officers have to be cut from the force, so there are fewer cops on patrol and fewer cops available for emergency response, so more patrol cops have to be pulled to respond to hospital emergencies ... that 1.5% of property value they're keeping off the tax rolls gets harder and harder to justify as their disproportionate use of city services degrades quality of life in the city as a whole and drives up crime citywide.

Anyway, cities restrict the number of liquor licenses and the locations of stores and bars with them precisely because liquor stores mean increased crime. (Really through no fault of the liquor stores -- you can be the best-run liquor store in the world and you're still going to have more crime than the neighboring clothing store, drunk people make bad decisions and a certain percentage of your clientele is pre-drunk.) They limit the number of them and make decisions about their locations specifically so that their negative community effects (of crime) don't outweigh their positive community effects (commerce, booze availability, etc.). And they have excess taxes on their product to help pay for the negative effects that come from it. If Wal-Mart is deliberately leveraging local police to reduce its own corporate costs, or is deliberately running its business in such a way that it disproportionately attracts criminals, "What is Wal-Mart's fair share of local police funding, and what is an equitable way of having them pay it?" is a legit question -- particularly since Wal-Mart always has the option of changing those deliberate practices so it attracts less crime.

(Now if Wal-Mart is serving higher-crime areas that other big boxes won't serve, that's a whole different plate of beans. But that does not sound like the case here.)

*Knock-on crime effect: Criminals have learned that because 911 response to violent crimes takes precedence over patrols, they can organize to commit some kind of small but showy crime (mob fist fight, say) in location A that pulls all the patrol officers to emergency response, and then commit crimes at leisure in the now-unpatrolled location B. Which is why some local school districts maintain separate security forces instead of using the more common deputy-assigned-to-school, because drug gangs figured out they could burgle a nearby house, get the school officer pulled to respond to the burglary, and beat down a kid from a rival gang in the school building with no available police response. So, you start a fist fight in the ER waiting room, nearby cops all get pulled to respond, your associates can go on a smash-and-grab spree of cars parked on the street for a good 15 or 20 minutes with the assurance there will be zero police response because resources are stretched way too thin.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:44 AM on May 12, 2016 [24 favorites]


Man, the Tampa Bay Times is just killing it with investigative journalism these days. This is excellent public service journalism of the type that can be pursued ONLY by full-time reporters given the time and resources to spend so much energy reading and analyzing police reports.

They're doing a Reddit AMA at 2 p.m. EST today.
posted by sixpack at 10:46 AM on May 12, 2016 [18 favorites]


I don't think you have to have a solution in order to outline a problem.

This. Sparking a discussion is often the first step to obtaining action. As described in sixpack's link to the Tampa Bay Times' Pulitzer Prizes article, the result was that:
"The reports stoked a community discussion on education and race, helped propel a federal civil rights investigation and forced action from government leaders in Tallahassee and Washington. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Education opened a civil rights investigation into whether the school district systematically discriminates against black children.
[...]
Florida lawmakers this year added $16 million to the mental hospitals' budget and directed an additional $42 million to improve community programs geared toward mental health. Gov. Rick Scott also signed legislation requiring health professionals, police, courts, jails and local charities to work together to develop a local plan for mental health and substance abuse treatment."
posted by cynical pinnacle at 11:13 AM on May 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


anti-abortion zealots calling up the cops on every minor infraction at a women's health clinic

Or the clinic would face a hefty fine anyway because they are routinely targets of violence. At least this system will let the public know the negative externalities of women's health.

I see way more downsides than upsides to this.
posted by Monochrome at 11:26 AM on May 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure how it affects the calculus, but there's a difference in that Walmart is the victim calling the police while anti-womans-health people would be the perpetrators.
posted by rhizome at 11:36 AM on May 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


People who work at Wal-Mart corporate headquarters are required to bag their own trash and vacuum their own cubicles because they're too cheap to pay for full janitorial services.

Honestly, that sounds about as penny-wise, pound-foolish as you can get. I bet most of those employees are both paid more than a janitor and less efficient at performing janitorial work.

Though, maybe the goal is more about promoting an ethos of comic, short-sighted cheapness than actually saving any money.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 11:57 AM on May 12, 2016 [4 favorites]


Should non-profits have to pay taxes on excess revenue? Or at least property taxes?

It's interesting you bring up not-for-profit hospitals. The Orlando Sentinel did a great four-part series focusing on two large not-for-profit hospital chains with a big local presence in central Florida. Is the community receiving benefits that justify the huge breaks on property taxes, state and federal corporate income taxes, and sales tax?

Part 2 of the series: "Researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health examined how the value of hospitals' tax breaks across the country stack up to the amount of free care they provide to the uninsured. "Our analysis suggests most hospitals are not paying their own way," said Gerard Anderson, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Hospital Finance and Management.

Here's the thing: caring for the elderly and poor is not unique to non-profit hospitals. Many for-profit hospitals also accept Medicare and Medicaid patients, and provide charity care. A Government Accountability Office report found in 2005 that there is little difference in the amount of charity care provided by non-profit and for-profit hospitals. That finding helped push changes, such as the current standardized IRS form for nonprofits to report their community benefit and a requirement for hospitals to research the health needs in their community. But unless states require minimum thresholds, it's up to hospital executives to decide how much charity is sufficient."

Part 4 of the series: "How far-fetched is it to suggest that nonprofit hospitals should pay property taxes? The idea is getting plenty of attention in other states. A New Jersey judge issued a ruling last summer that blew up the notion that nonprofit hospitals should be tax-exempt. The judge said a large hospital in a town 20 miles west of Newark should pay back property taxes because it behaves more like a for-profit corporation than a charity. He went so far as to say “modern non-profit hospitals are essentially legal fictions.” Push-back in other parts of the country has been fierce, though not always effective.

What other nonprofits buy so many television commercials and billboards? Or sponsor professional soccer teams? (Orlando Health has its name on the Orlando City uniforms). Or college bowl games? (Florida Hospital had its name on the Cure Bowl in December and charged for mammograms outside the Citrus Bowl while fans tailgated.) Florida Hospital spent $17 million in advertising, according to its 2013 tax form. Orlando Health spent $9 million."
posted by cynical pinnacle at 12:01 PM on May 12, 2016 [9 favorites]


I used to live in a very soulless middle class suburb in the Twin Cities. It had a WalHell. The ONLY public fist fight I had ever seen in all my years there was in the parking lot of that store. And it was two women. I'm sure if I had talked to local cops they would have said it wasn't the first time.
posted by Ber at 12:34 PM on May 12, 2016


Honestly, that sounds about as penny-wise, pound-foolish as you can get. I bet most of those employees are both paid more than a janitor and less efficient at performing janitorial work.

Corporate culture there expects a routine 50-hour-minimum week or you aren't a team player. It's kind of like Google's 20% time — you were still given more than 40 hours of work to do each week, so it didn't cost the company shit.
posted by middleclasstool at 12:52 PM on May 12, 2016


Criminals have learned that because 911 response to violent crimes takes precedence over patrols, they can organize to commit some kind of small but showy crime (mob fist fight, say) in location A that pulls all the patrol officers to emergency response, and then commit crimes at leisure in the now-unpatrolled location B.

Hey Eyebrows, I always thought this was a smart idea but... is there evidence this is really happening? Your whole comment is of interest to me because I work for my county safety-net hospital (different from these highly profitable "nonprofit" hospitals described above) and we do have a lot of crime on site but also have the county sheriff embeded within our hospital (which has it's pluses and minuses, namely it is problematic to have armed police inside a hospital - see the recent This American Life on that issue!)
posted by latkes at 2:17 PM on May 12, 2016


In my city, the top 4 police call locations a few years ago were two hospitals, an SRO, and Walmart. That Walmart was both servicing low-income populations and also poorly maintained. The parking lot was legit very sketchy. They have subsequently closed so I imagine Walmart did not find that location profitable, even if they were exporting their policing to OPD.
posted by latkes at 2:22 PM on May 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


"is there evidence this is really happening? "

We saw it with schools and gangs and it impacted our decisions about school security. It definitely varies based on your state and local laws, and your local police operating procedures -- not in all places are site-based officers pulled to nearby emergencies. We (at the school district) knew the hospital was in conversations about the problem with the city and county police forces (some similar institutions around here contract with county rather than city police specifically to avoid the pull-off problem); I don't know how often they had had things like that actually happen, though.

Every instance in regional schools we saw with this happening was organized drug gangs seeking retaliation against a rival. I would imagine it's not typically your regular burglars getting smart but a tactic for organized criminal groups with specific targets in mind. It was also a very rare event, but a hugely problematic one when it happened, so worth spending a certain amount attention worrying about.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:13 PM on May 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


One nitpick: I don't think it's particularly useful to compare relative tax income from different retailers (in this case, Target and Walmart), because that could lead to the implication that police response should be commensurate with tax revenue, which is a place that we, as a society, shouldn't be going.

Police response is already commensurate with wealth.

If someone breaks into my dwelling and steals my great-grandmother's 1939 World's Fair Commemorative Spoon--the one my great-grandfather bought for her on their very first date--the police will just show up and write a report and file it away.

If someone breaks into the Walton's compound and steals a Manet, they're going to recover the painting and catch whoever took it.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:59 PM on May 12, 2016


Look, I know that WalMart is a bete noire around these parts, and that reputation is pretty well deserved. That said, the linked article frames the issue in such a manner as to suggest that WalMart is somehow uniquely to blame, as if WalMart were somehow forcing people to shoplift at gunpoint.
The issue is not that WalMart is so cheap and lacking in civic-mindedness. The issue is that we have a huge population of desperately poor people in this country and among them are a significant number who are slowly shuffling off the shackles of bourgeois propriety and applying Proudhon's maxim to random pieces of inventory.

All of which is to say that I found the article a little disingenuous because it failed to address the underlying structural issues with any depth and chose to shoot for the low-hanging fruit.
posted by the hot hot side of randy at 5:36 PM on May 12, 2016


That said, the linked article frames the issue in such a manner as to suggest that WalMart is somehow uniquely to blame

You did read the parts about how this happens at WalMart more than it happens at similar retailers, right? Are you saying that the "underlying structural issues" somehow uniquely apply to WalMarts and the areas around them?
posted by Etrigan at 5:46 PM on May 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


Etrigan -- short answer is yes.

Criminals commit crime in convenient places where they feel comfortable. Sadly: Wal-Mart.

Think about the reverse. Every day at 4:30 p.m. the loading area of country club clubhouses will have guests' golf bags lined up a dozen or two dozen deep -- $10k to $30k of easily sold gear that two guys with a pick-up truck could steal in 30 seconds flat. Never happens. Same story with ski resorts, except it's a $100k of skis, poles and boards waiting by the loading area at 4:30 as half the mountain is enjoying an apres-ski pop or changing in the locker room. Theft basically never happens.
posted by MattD at 8:51 PM on May 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


... Do you have a pick-up truck I could borrow?
posted by asperity at 8:57 PM on May 12, 2016 [5 favorites]


"Annual golf equipment thefts have long exceeded a couple of hundred million dollars annually. While retail stores with brand new clubs are frequent targets so too are your late model clubs."
posted by clavdivs at 1:17 AM on May 13, 2016


The issue is not that WalMart is so cheap and lacking in civic-mindedness.

Yeah, that is the issue. The article touches on some reasons why that is: a lack of floor staff and uniformed security gives people the feeling that they can get away with theft, bare-bones staffing leads to lack of maintenance of merchandise displays gives thieves the impression that the store doesn't care about it's inventory anyhow, and poor layouts (limited open space and poor sight lines) make opportunists feel safe to steal.

These issues aren't mysteries, the retail industry knows how to use staffing and store layout reduce crime. Walmart has decided these tactics cost too much and are pushing those costs onto taxpayers instead.

Another example, maybe a decade ago that public pressure forced Walmart to invest in better lighting in their parking lots. Because Walmart was stingy on lighting and security, they were known to be hot spots for muggings and sexual assaults. Walmart did a cost/benefit analysis and decided that paying for lighting was not worth it, until bad publicity made them reevaluate that.
posted by peeedro at 10:26 AM on May 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


Walmart's policy is to have employees work only as many hours as needed to maximize their government welfare and food stamps. Again, this is their official policy. That is huge balls. Walmart simply doesn't give a f*ck.
posted by xammerboy at 12:07 PM on May 13, 2016


There's probably a Salesforce module/app that makes those calculations easy.
posted by rhizome at 12:09 PM on May 13, 2016


I am not a Walmart fan, and don't shop there often, but the two stores in my suburban Seattle-area city are pretty well-kept. We started off with a typical, non super-center store, and when they built a super-center about 20 years later, they kept the older store open (unusual, I understand). I expected the older store to turn I into a K-Mart style mess, but it didn't. In fact, they have an active and effective loss prevention team.

This is great journalism, too. It's not necessarily the job of journalists to present a solution to a problem. Journalists aren't called "reporters" for nothing. A report doesn't provide a solution. It brings facts to light, so the people in charge or affected can decide how to act.
posted by lhauser at 8:50 PM on May 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


Ben&Jerry's makes exclusive flavors for TGT and Walmart. The Walmart flavors are only sold in stores located in mixed income areas.
posted by brujita at 7:16 PM on May 14, 2016


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