A few years ago I did a ride-along with a police officer, and we responded to a call from a woman who said her boyfriend was headed to the Walmart parking lot where he was going to commit suicide.
What brought that incident back to me was the recent reports that the crime rates are so high in and around Walmart stores. For example, see Bloomberg: Walmart's out of control crime problem is driving police crazy by Shannon Pettypiece and David Voreacos.
Police reports from dozens of stores suggest the number of petty crimes committed on Walmart properties nationwide this year will be in the hundreds of thousands. But people dashing out the door with merchandise is the least troubling part of Walmart’s crime problem. More than 200 violent crimes, including attempted kidnappings and multiple stabbings, shootings, and murders, have occurred at the nation’s 4,500 Walmarts this year, or about one a day, according to an analysis of media reports. Sometimes they’re spectacular enough to get national attention. In June, a SWAT team killed a hostage taker at a Walmart in Amarillo, Texas. In July, three Walmart employees in Florida were charged with manslaughter after a shoplifter they chased and pinned down died of asphyxia. Other crimes are just bizarre. On Aug. 8, police discovered a meth lab inside a 6-foot-high drainage pipe under a Walmart parking lot in Amherst, N.Y.
But why is it so much worse at Walmart than at Target?
Police departments inevitably compare their local Walmarts with Target stores. Target, Walmart’s largest competitor, is a different kind of retail business, with mostly smaller stores that tend to be located in somewhat more affluent neighborhoods. But there are other reasons Targets have less crime. Unlike most Walmarts, they’re not open 24 hours a day. Nor do they allow people to camp overnight in their parking lots, as Walmarts do. Like Walmart, Target relies heavily on video surveillance, but it employs sophisticated software that can alert the store security office when shoppers spend too much time in front of merchandise or linger for long periods outside after closing time. The biggest difference, police say, is simply that Targets have more staff visible in stores.
Security experts, as you might imagine, recommend that Walmart hire more security personnel.
As for the fellow from my own ride-along who was hell bent on offing himself in the Walmart parking lot, we circled the lot a few times but didn't find him. It wasn't funny at the time, but looking back on it it's almost laugh-out-loud funny. It's bad enough to want to end it all, but in the Walmart parking lot? Now that's crazy.
The dispatcher couldn't get the girl friend back on the line, so we can only guess what happened. Anyway, another call came along, and we left the Walmart area. If Walmart has the high crime rate Bloomberg says, we should have stuck around.