Walmart is killing a controversial punishment for shoplifters in a blow to police departments across the US

source
Reuters

  • Walmart is ending a program that allowed first-time shoplifters to avoid criminal charges by taking an educational course and paying a fine.
  • The program helped cut back on police calls to Walmart stores – a huge drain on local law-enforcement resources.
  • A California judge had referred to the program as “extortion.”

Walmart will no longer oversee punishment for first-time shoplifters, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The retailer is shifting that burden back onto local law enforcement after a California judged deemed its program to handle offenders to be “extortion.”

That’s bad news for local police departments, which can spend thousands of dollars a day responding to calls at Walmart stores.

Police were called to Walmart stores in Tampa, Florida, nearly 16,800 times in one year, which equates to “two calls an hour, every hour, every day,” a 2016 Tampa Bay Times investigation found.

To help alleviate some of the theft-related cost burden for local governments, Walmart in recent years implemented a system that circumvented law enforcement for first-time offenders in 2,000 stores.

It required offenders to take an online course on retail theft and pay a fine of $300 to $500 – or face criminal charges.

Most of the fine went to the companies providing the online courses, Corrective Education Company and Turning Point Justice, according to The Journal. The rest went to the retailer.

The new system appeared to be successful for Walmart. Police calls to one Tampa-area Walmart were cut nearly in half – to 294 from 486 – over a four-month period after implementation.

But the education programs have since come under scrutiny. A California Superior Court said in an August ruling that the Corrective Education program was extortion.

Walmart has since suspended the program, according to The Journal.

“It’s not welcome everywhere, and I want to understand that better,” Joe Schrauder, Walmart’s vice president of asset protection and safety, told The Journal. “We want to make sure we are partnering with local government.”