There are four Walmart supercenter locations across the city of Tulsa, each one gracing headlines one time or another for what seems to be an incessant occurrence of crime. Some are predictable and rather harmless. Shoplifters are caught on camera by store staff, who contact police officers, who in turn arrive just in time to see that the would-be petty thieves are given a warning if it is their first offense.
These crimes are not considered noteworthy on their own, but they consume much of the Tulsa Police Department’s time. Officer Darrell Ross in particular has become known to his colleagues as ‘Officer Walmart’ for the overwhelming amount of effort he spends responding to Walmart’s calls for police. The superstores have caught the attention of the general public for much more unusual events than theft, such as shootings, murders, and even an attempted in-store meth lab.
The fact is that both kinds of occurrences are not so unique to the city of Tulsa. Bloomberg might have spotlighted Tulsa’s criminal problems at Walmarts as being one of the most persistent in the country, but it did so in a larger article concerning the high rate of crimes that plagues the superstore on a national level. This year, a violent crime has occurred at a Walmart on a daily basis in the US. The question is, are these crimes preventable? And should the company be held accountable?
To answer the first, we’ll look at Target, a massive retail chain which certainly parallels Walmart in several aspects, and yet manages to prevent crime much more successfully. Target has just as many locations in Tulsa as Walmart, and yet just last year reported only 300 crimes in the city, miniscule when compared to Walmart’s 2,000. Target, some would argue, is often located in safer areas and sells items of higher prices, so this may account for some of the disparity in crime between the two retail stores. But experts point to the presence of staff and security, both of which are often visible the moment you enter the store, as an effective deterrent against crime.
For nearly two decades, Walmart has chosen to cut costs in a myriad of ways, one of which was to simply employ less workers. The company removed greeters, replaced cashiers with self-checkout desks, and generally cut down on employees. Now there’s one worker for every 500 feet of retail space, a daunting figure when it becomes the employee’s responsibility to ensure property is never stolen.
Now the second question: should Walmart be held responsible for the actions of a few thousand criminals? Here, legally, the answer is quite simply yes. The law of premise liability dictates that Walmart is obligated to provide its customers with a safe environment. As figures show, this is often not the case, with the chain’s locations becoming a hotspot for violent attacks, robberies, and even hostage crises.
The solution to police officers’ woes might be found in the small town of Beech Grove, Indianapolis, where Mayor Dennis Buckley once lamented the negative attention crimes at Walmart were affording his small suburb. To solve the issue, he convinced the local store to take on the responsibility of paying off-duty officers to guard the store. So far, the method seems quite effective, with the superstore no longer absorbing the police’s time and efforts.
Tulsa’s Walmarts have employed a variety of tactics to deter criminals, including a re-instatement of greeters, more security cameras, and more employees overall. The efforts have seemed fruitless so far, but it might just be a matter of time. Even if shoplifting at any one of the city’s four locations just became near impossible, it’ll take criminals a while before they stop thinking of the stores as easy prey. In the meantime, Walmart can adopt the simple tactic of hiring more off-duty officers as security guards, diminishing its reliance on the time of the Tulsa Police Department to answer it’s every beck and call.