SUNDAY EDITION | Walmart is number one destination for LMPD call - WDRB 41 Louisville News

SUNDAY EDITION | Walmart is number one destination for LMPD calls

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LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) -- Over the last four years, when Louisville Metro Police were dispatched to a business, local Walmarts were by far their number one destination.

Of the top 100 spots LMPD has responded to since January 2012, police have logged more than 9,200 calls for service from six area Walmarts -- 33 percent more than the next highest location, seven area Kroger stores.

In addition, four of the top 10 places police were called to in that time period were individual Walmart stores, including the number one location -- the Walmart located at 175 Outer Loop, where police are dispatched on average more than 600 times a year.

These numbers don't come as a big eye-opener to law enforcement.

"It’s historically been that way," said LMPD Major Frank Hardison, commander of the department’s 3rd division, which covers southwestern Jefferson County and includes the Outer Loop Walmart and two others. "You are looking at a large demographic of folks … so you have shoplifters, people losing items, wrecks in the parking lot. It’s not surprising."

The findings, obtained through an open records request to LMPD, are similar to those in a recent analysis by the Tampa Bay Times, which reported that Walmart placed a much heavier load on police than any other business, accounting for nearly 16,800 calls in just one year.

The newspaper concluded that Walmart is letting taxpayers pick up the tab for securing its stores by relying heavily on police instead of hiring its own guards.

In Louisville, Walmarts generate far more calls than larger places, such as Oxmoor Mall and the KFC Yum! Center. After the 6,946 police calls to seven area Kroger stores since 2012, the numbers drop dramatically, with Meijer stores next at 2,643 and then the Economy Inn on Bardstown Road. No Target stores were listed in the top 100 businesses with the most calls to police.

A Kroger spokesman did not return a phone message seeking comment.

Of the other top individual businesses which have the most police dispatches since 2012, the Economy Inn was second, with 2,371 calls. Neighbors and city officials have for years said the Economy Inn is a hotbed for criminal activity, and there has been a push to close it down amid poor health inspection ratings.

But Tony Yaldo, a manager for the motel, said new owners have made changes in the last year, including hiring more security and meeting monthly with police.

"We’ve improved night and day," he said.  

The statistics provided to WDRB by LMPD did not break down the number of calls by year.

The University of Louisville Hospital is third on the individual business list with 2,353 police calls, followed closely by the Walmart on Raggard Road and Jefferson County Technical and Community College. The only other business with more than 2,000 calls to police since 2012 was Oxmoor Mall on Shelbyville Road.

Given the size of the Walmart stores and the varied demographics and sheer volume of customers, Hardison said the business is a natural target for shoplifters.  And he said Walmart, unlike some other businesses, is tenacious in their "loss-prevention program."

"I can't say that it's not a strain" on police, Hardison said. "But it's also a strain when there are car wrecks when it rains. We're going to answer our calls for service. That’s what we do."

The Tampa Bay Times reported that while Walmart stores are prone to shoplifting, panhandlers and other issues, they don’t do enough to address the problems, such as hire a sufficient amount of uniformed guards to prevent crime.

None of the Louisville stores has uniformed guards, a Walmart spokeswoman said.

But the company said it is rolling out a new program nationally adding more staff to its stores entrances and trying out a "Restorative Justice" pilot program for some areas, allowing first-time shoplifting offenders to avoid arrest by completing an educational program.

Customers caught shoplifting less expensive items for the first time are given the choice to have police called or complete the program without a crime going on their record.

"It would help significantly," Hardison said of a "Restorative Justice" program here.  "From my experience, many of the people that are shoplifters are not career thieves. It is crimes of opportunity. If they have a program to give people a break at first, that would help. I'd be in complete support."

By cutting down the numbers of calls to Walmart, Hardison said officers would have time to patrol other areas and crime prevention. An average run to a Walmart store, if there are no major issues, takes about 45 minutes, he said.

Louisville is not among those currently testing the restorative justice program but Erica Jones, a spokeswoman for Walmart, said stores here would soon be getting additional employees, called - "customer hosts" - at its front entrance to check receipts, help deter shoplifters and improve customer service.

Also, greeters are returning to the front of Walmart stores, Jones said. In recent years, the greeters, who are typically senior citizens, had been moved back to the main shopping aisles, among other areas.

Jones said calls to police were reduced by 40 percent at two stores in Arlington, Texas, after the customer hosts were added.

"No retailer is immune to the challenge of crime," she said in a statement, adding that Walmart is "moving aggressively to address these issues.

"In the coming weeks, we will increase outreach to law enforcement across the country as part of a concerted effort to make investments and deploy the right processes and procedures needed to meet our customer and associate expectations of a safe and enjoyable shopping experience," she wrote. "The importance of this issue is recognized at the highest levels of the company. No level of violence is acceptable in our stores. We are confident in the work done so far. But we know we can do better, and we will."

Either way, Hardison said police have a good relationship with Walmart and their loss prevention employees and will respond to calls to the businesses without complaint.

"They are the largest retailer" in Louisville, he said. "It’s our responsibility to make the runs."

Below is an interactive map of the data on police runs in Louisville:

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