Theft tops long list of police calls to Walmart last year

Besides being a hotspot for retail activity, Tiffin’s Walmart is an area of focus for Tiffin Police Department, with 231 calls occurring during 2016.

Forty-eight percent, or 111 of the calls were theft-related, a Tiffin Police Department report states. From January to March 2017, there have been more than 60 calls to Walmart, with about 25 being theft-related, the report states.

“It is a problem, it has always been a problem with the big box stores,” said Tiffin Police Department Chief Fred Stevens. “It’s not an anomaly to the city of Tiffin … At any place you have a lot of people congregating, you’re going to have a lot of calls.”

Although theft is a big problem at Walmart, it’s not the only thing police have to deal with, Stevens said. There are also accidents and trespassing calls they to handle. Parking offenses and abandoned or disabled vehicles made up 32 of 2016’s calls and traffic accidents made up 31 of the calls.

With the large volume of calls coming in from one location throughout the year, Stevens said Walmart calls can be quite a drain on resources.

“That’s a lot of resources and time,” he said. “Arrest times, reports, charges, all that sucks up a lot of the resources for a police department that is handling hundreds of calls a year.”

Because of the large number of theft calls, Stevens said police often go to the community for help by posting photos of suspects from security cameras. By casting a wide net on social media, Stevens said this strategy often works and leads to theft charges.

Many of the thefts at Walmart are fueled by drug addiction, Stevens said. Addicts often will steal items only to take them back later to try to return them for cash, or will sell items to other people for drugs or money, he said.

Many shoplifters come in from out of town thinking they won’t get caught if they leave the area, Stevens said.

“(They think) they’re not known and if (they) go far enough away, no one will notice (them),” he said.

Walmart acknowledges the problem theft poses to communities, and employs its own security measures including utilizing asset protection associates, security cameras and a “restorative justice” program, said Ragan Dickens, director of national media relations for Walmart.

The restorative justice program allows first time offenders to participate in an educational program rather than face conviction, he said, which has correlated with a 35 percent decrease in calls to law enforcement across the country.