Report: Wal-Mart loosens shoplifting policy

No. 1 retailer will only press charges if shoplifters take at least $25, in change to zero-tolerance policy.

July 13 2006: 7:22 AM EDT

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Wal-Mart is moving away from what it called a zero-tolerance policy on prosecuting shoplifters and will now only prosecute anyone caught taking merchandise worth $25 or more, according to a published report.

The New York Times reports the change in policy, citing internal documents from Wal-Mart that say it will now only press charges against those between the ages of 18 and 64 who take at least $25 worth of goods. Formerly its policy was to press charges against anyone who took at least $3 in goods.

Wal-Mart is reportedly changing its zero-tolerance policy on shoplifters.

The paper said the change in policy will allow Wal-Mart to concentrate on theft by professional shoplifters and its own employees. The paper said those two groups steal the bulk of merchandise from the chain.

"If I have somebody being paid $12 an hour processing a $5 theft, I have just lost money," J. P. Suarez, who is in charge of asset protection at Wal-Mart, told the paper. "I have also lost the time to catch somebody stealing $100 or an organized group stealing $3,000."

Wal-Mart told the paper it would closely track shoplifters it did not have arrested, and would ask that they be prosecuted after a second incident. It will also seek the prosecution of all suspected shoplifters who threaten violence or fail to produce identification, no matter how much they are trying to steal, according to the report, which said professional shoplifters often do not carry ID in order to avoid arrest.

The change will also put the company's policy in line with most of its major competitors.

The paper said that the change also will answer complaints of small-town police departments across the country who have protested the previous zero-tolerance policy. At some stores police were making up to six arrests a day, according to the report, which said some departments had to hire extra officers just to handle the Wal-Mart arrests.

The paper said it was given the documents detailing the new policy by WakeUpWalMart.com, an anti-Wal-Mart group that told the paper it received the documents from a former employee at the chain who is unhappy with the new policy.



July 13, 2006

Shoplifting At Wal-Mart

posted by Dan Filler

According to NY Times accounts, Wal-Mart has decided to cut shoplifters a bit of slack. If you're under 18 or over 65, and try to swipe merchandise under $25 (and it's your first time being caught by Wal-Mart security), they'll give you a tough lecture and send you packing. Why the generosity? The article suggests - and this is surely true - that the local infrastructure (i.e., the cops and local prosecutors) don't like to foot the bill for enforcing shoplifting laws. This raises some interesting questions.

First, should shoplifting be a crime? Probably, if only because if allowed to grow, it would (in aggregate) devastate retailing. Second, who should bear the cost of shoplifting enforcement? Perhaps the right answer is the retailer. Offenders are the logical payors, but they are often too poor to bear actual costs. And while society at large could pay the cost (and does, right now), it seems to me that it would be easier to impose the tax on the retailer. Why? Because, in many respects, the retailer is in the best position to reduce theft. Cameras, good layout, ever-present security all help reduce attempted thefts. If stores see that they save more than mere shrinkage by stopping shoplifting, perhaps they'll introduce those preventive steps.

In my experience, shoplifting cases are a major source of docket junk in criminal courts. DA's typically don't care much about them. The victims - and there are real victims - are mostly corporations, and these corporations don't get exercised like other victims. To the DA, the company's face is the security guard who shows up to testify - and he or she is usually a low-paid worker bee who doesn't much care the outcome of the case.

Sounds to me like Wal-Mart is just trying to get along better with the local community. Perhaps they should talk to Target, a leader in the national fight against crime, for tips.

Posted by Dan Filler at July 13, 2006 11:27 AM



The following two stories appeared in the Colorado Springs Gazette on Thursday, December 30, 1999:

Wal-Mart Accused of Bias

Wal-Mart's Shoplifting Policy


Wal-Mart Accused of Bias

Witness says treatment of suspect racially motivated
By Gina Perales/The Gazette.

Gina Perales covers minority affairs and may be reached at 636-0198 or gperales@gazette. com
Edited by Jim Borden; headline by Barry Noreen

A 19-year-old suspected shoplifter was kicked in the chest, handcuffed, then dragged across the store by Wal-Mart employees who detained him Dec. 4, according to a witness who contends the incident was racially motivated.

The incident, complaints to store officials and inquiries by The Gazette prompted the company to investigate. Officials at the store at Platte Avenue and Chelton Road refused to comment, but corporate representatives denied employees acted improperly in subduing Keith Lawson of Colorado Springs.

Lawson was detained by store employees and accused of shoplifting cigarettes worth $5.50 around midnight, according to the summons issued to him.

The incident was witnessed by Joyce Green, 44, of Colorado Springs, a retired bank teller and customer service representative, who was shopping when she saw three employees run to the front of the store to help a plainclothes security guard.

Green, who said she watched from just six feet away, said the four wrestled with Lawson inside the store near the north entrance, pulling his gray jacket over his head "like a straightjacket," and kicked him while he was on the ground.

Lawson is black and the store employees who restrained him are white.

The incident was "almost like a Rodney King thing," Green said, referring to the beating of a black man by white police officers in Los Angeles in 1992.

Employees handcuffed Lawson and dragged him across the front of the inside of the store and into a Colorado Springs Police Department satellite station at the south entrance, where they waited for police, she said.

Green said she began to think race was an issue after overhearing a comment from an employee who helped restrain Lawson. According to Green, "He said, ‘I have had black people draw knives and guns and everything like that. All these black people come in here and try to steal."’

Green told The Gazette she was so angered by what she saw and heard at the store that she confronted managers. A woman manager asked Green if she was related to Lawson. When Green asked why, the manager said, "Because you re black."

"They were very hostile toward me," she said. "They were going to charge me with trespassing."

In interviews with The Gazette, Lawson, who is about 130 pounds and 5 feet 5 inches tall, admitted he concealed cigarettes, tried to escape when confronted and then defended himself from the employees, guarding his face with his arms and fists as they tried to detain him.

First, Lawson said, the security guard placed him in a headlock and pushed him to the floor inside the store at the north entrance.

"The rest of them ran up to me, started grabbing me and kicked me on my side," Lawson said. "One of them had his knee on my chest to keep me down."

He said employees trying to subdue him during the incident called him "boy," a term blacks consider derogatory. He said the employees said, "C’mon boy," as they attempted to handcuff him.

"I felt like they were trying to fight me," he said. Lawson said the scuffle left him injured. Two days after the incident, Lawson checked into the emergency room at Memorial Hospital, where doctors said he had suffered chest contusions, or bruises, according to a medical report.

Lawson said he waited two days to get treatment because he was still in shock. As the pain in his chest got worse and he began to have recurring headaches, he went to the emergency room, he said.

In another doctor’s examination last week, Lawson underwent a brain scan. Doctors said he had suffered a concussion, according to medical forms obtained by The Gazette.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. representatives in Arkansas said the company investigated after The Gazette’s inquiries and found no evidence to support accusations of brutality or racism.

"That’s just ridiculous," said John Bisio, spokesman. "That store in particular is well-represented by people of all color. To imply or state racial motive is just without merit. It’s a classic case of embarrassment and sour grapes.’’

Bisio said he spoke to managers and the employees involved about the incident. From his inquiries, Bisio determined only two employees, a security guard and an assistant manager, apprehended Lawson outside the store’s front doors. He would not release their names.

The summons and complaint were signed by Thomas Taylor Jr., an employee who said he couldn’t talk with the media because it was against company policy, and Ann Zimmerman, another employee who store employees say is the night shift manager.

Bisio also said Lawson was not dragged across the store. He said the incident occurred outside the store and Lawson was escorted to the south entrance from there.

Bisio said Lawson tried to escape, collided with one employee and caused them both to fall to the ground. "There was a lot of thrashing about by the customer," he said. "When he scrambled to get up, they handcuffed him."

On occasion, force is used to subdue a suspected shoplifter, said Wal-Mart representatives, especially if a suspect fights back. But the company denies employees kicked Lawson.

"If someone is trying to get away, kicking won’t stop them," said Jessica Moser, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman. "This had nothing to do with discrimination and everything to do with Wal-Mart’s zero tolerance for shoplifting."

Later in the day of Lawson’s arrest, his sister Anita Davis confronted store managers about the incident and demanded to see any videotapes of it. Police were called, and she was charged with harassment. She is scheduled to appear in court Jan. 18.

Lawson’s first court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 25. He was cited for shoplifting and possession of less than 2 ounces of marijuana at the time of his arrest.



Wal-Mart’s Shoplifting Policy

Wal-Mart officials say company policy states that security guards must see a suspect hide an item and walk past the registers to the front door before a minimum of two guards can confront the suspect.

Next, the guard must ask the suspect to return the stolen item.

If a suspect tries to flee, handcuffs can be used for restraint.

Jessica Moser, a corporate spokeswoman, said that although shoplifting policies vary from store to store, under no circumstances do any of the policies allow guards to kick a suspect.

"We don’t want to make a scene," Moser said. "We accompany them to a private office in the store and then fill out paperwork. Our utmost priority is the safety of the employees and the customers. If they have a weapon, we just call police. If we can stop them, then we do."

Local police said the Wal-Mart on Platte Avenue and Chelton Road received 86 calls for service Nov. 28 through Wednesday [Dec. 29]. Of those, 22 calls were about shoplifting. The other calls were about suspicious persons, medical emergencies, traffic accidents and domestic disturbances.


Wal-Mart sued over shoplifting suspect who died in scuffle

By ROBERT CROWE - Houston Chronicle
November 16, 2005

The family of a man suspected of shoplifting who died after struggling with Wal-Mart employees filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the retail giant.

Stacy Clay Driver's father and widow are seeking unspecified damages for his Aug. 7 death at the Atascocita Wal-Mart, 6626 FM 1960 East. The Harris County Medical Examiner's Office recently ruled his death a homicide.

"This family was grievously harmed," said Jim Lindeman, the lawyer for Driver's family.

Wal-Mart spokesman Marty Heires declined to discuss the details of the suit.

"Because this likely will be presented to a grand jury, I think any further comment now is inappropriate," Heires said.

Loss-prevention employees told police that Driver tried to take $94 worth of merchandise by putting receipt stickers on items he had not purchased, claiming they were returns and asking for store credit.

When confronted, Driver ran into the parking lot, pursued by a loss-prevention employee. According to the suit, the employee wrestled Driver to the ground. Other Wal-Mart employees assisted in subduing Driver as he struggled to get up.

On Nov. 4, the medical examiner ruled Driver's death was caused primarily by asphyxia because of neck and chest compression while a secondary cause was hyperthermia with methamphetamine toxicity.

Driver, 30, had lived with his wife, Wendy, 27, and son, Ashton, 5 months, in Cleveland, about 45 miles north of Houston.


Will New Wal-Mart Policy Help Catch More Drunken Drivers?

If you are a retailer, setting a policy for handling shoplifters isn’t simple. Do you call the police for every shoplifter, even a kid who pockets a box of crayons? What about a senior citizen taking some batteries? Do you treat first-timers the same as pros?

Wal-Mart has long been known for a very strict policy: call the police on anyone who takes anything. But that policy is over. Wal-Mart, which I am guessing may be the largest shoplifting target in history, is no longer prosecuting first-time shoplifter unless they are between 18 and 65 and have stolen more than $25 worth of stuff. According to today’s N.Y. Times, this change puts Wal-Mart in line with most other chains’ policies.

Why the change? Plainly, Wal-Mart had a strong preference for a zero-tolerance policy. But as it turned out, it was the economics — of their business and of policing — that produced the change.

For the store, the opportunity cost had come to severely outweigh the shoplifting cost. “J.P. Suarez, who is in charge of asset protection at Wal-Mart, said it was no longer efficient to prosecute petty shoplifters,” Michael Barbaro wrote in the Times. “‘If I have somebody being paid $12 an hour processing a $5 theft, I have just lost money,’ he said. ‘I have also lost the time to catch somebody stealing $100 or an organized group stealing $3,000.’”

But, although the article doesn’t quite say so, I am guessing it was the pressure from police departments that truly forced Wal-Mart’s hand. The Times quotes Don Zofchak, police chief in South Strabane Township, Pa., as saying that Wal-Mart “would arrest somebody for stealing a pair of socks. I felt we were spending an inordinate amount of time just dealing with Wal-Mart.”

It wouldn’t surprise me if police in many small cities and rural areas had stopped responding to Wal-Mart’s daily requests to pick up their shoplifters, or at least grumbled mightily about having to do so. Wal-Mart has taken lots of heat for lots of reasons over the years — including, for instance, the fact that many of its low-wage employees also receive public assistance, which has led some critics to say that the U.S. Government in effect subsidizes Wal-Mart’s business. I can imagine how its old shoplifting policy may have led to even more damaging criticism — that Wal-Mart has turned local police forces into Wal-Mart police forces, preventing them from doing their real jobs.

Wal-Mart is famously protective of its data, and I am sure it will not divulge much about how this new policy plays out. (The Times article, e.g., was based on internal documents leaked to the paper by WakeUpWal-Mart.com, “a group backed by unions that have tried to organize Wal-Mart workers in the U.S.”) But if for someone could figure out exactly how and when each Wal-Mart store changes its shoplifting policy, and how many fewer times it calls the police, it would be really interesting to see what else the police in those places end up doing: do they make more arrests for drunken driving or domestic abuse or meth distribution?



Update as of Aug 24, 2007

These Walmart Theft Policy Updates took effect on July 9, 2007

A few changes have been made to AP-09, Investigation and Detention of Shoplifters. These revisions involve a change to one of the four elements required to approach a suspect, the prosecution and trespassing of minors, and processing of minors.

One of the four elements needed to approach and stop a shoplifter has been changed from exiting the facility to passing the last point of sale and reaching the vestibule, or final point of exit. This also includes any sidewalk sale where a register is present. The final point of exit for the following locations will be considered as follows:

1) TLE- the door after the register, opening into the bay.
2) Garden Center- after registers, EAS pedestals and outside.
3) Vision Centers- the doctor's door leading to the outside.

Prosecution of suspects has been changed from the "Minumum age of 18 to 16."Trespassing suspects when certain conditions are present has also been changed "from 18 to 16 years of age."

Contacting a minor's parents/guardians and documenting efforts should be the first priority after apprehending a minor. The time allowed for contacting the parents has changed "from 45 minutes to 30 minutes." Also changed is the allowable time for the parents/guardians to arrive at the facility to pick up the minor, "from 90 minutes to 60 minutes." The 60 minutes begins upon notification of the parents/guardians. If the parents/guardians are not contacted or refuse to pick up the minor, police should be contacted and charges pursued against the minor, regardless of the amount of theft. Facility manager or manager in charge of facility should be contacted before calling the police.

Associates should make efforts to deter, rather than detain minor suspect when the following are present:

1) Suspect appears 12 years old or younger and
2) Are suspected of shoplifting items valued at $25 or less

STATE Specific instructions still apply, so be sure to check the dropdown box on the policy form for individual state information.

MAPMs should inform the APCs, APAs, and Store Managers of the changes to AP-09. MAPMs should ensure that the Store Managers inform all authorized associates of the changes to the policy as well. MAPMs will be responsible for completing an online verification form that will indicated if all authorized associates in their Market have been informed of the changed to AP-09 Policy, Investigations and Detention of Shoplifters.

Completion of the verification form will be due by August 10, 2007 The form will be posted on the WIRE after updated to the policy take effect on July 9, 2007