Theft is a huge problem for Walmart, costing the company billions of dollars every year.
Walmart has made it a top priority over the last year to reduce stealing, in part by adding receipt-scanners to store entrances and bringing back greeters, but the problem persists at stores nationwide.
In Tampa, the local police department has been so overwhelmed by calls to Walmart stores that the company has implemented a new “diversion” program to give petty offenders a slap on the wrist instead of jail time, The Tampa Bay Times reports.
The program allows first-time shoplifters who steal less than $25 to avoid criminal charges, according to the Times. As punishment, the offenders must take a class on retail theft and pay restitution.
The program has helped alleviate police calls to Walmart stores.
The number of arrests at one Walmart Supercenter in Tampa – which has historically been a hotbed for criminal activity – was reduced to 47 over the first four months of this year, compared to 85 arrests over the same period in 2015, according to the Times. Calls for police help also declined, from 486 in the four-month period last year to 294 this year.
But some members of the local government still aren’t happy with the level of criminal activity at Walmart stores.
According to a Times investigation, police were called to Tampa-area Walmart stores nearly 16,800 times in one year, which equates totwo calls an hour, every hour, every day.
Tampa City Council member Frank Reddick said Thursday that Walmart should hire security guards at its stores, the Times reports. He said he met with Walmart officials earlier in the month at a store in East Tampa where more than 120 arrests were made in the first four months of the year.
“One question Walmart refused to answer is why they refuse to hire security guards at their stores,” Reddick said, according to the Times. “It seems to me with prevention programs they’re trying to save money.”
Walmart does, in fact, hire off-duty police and security officers in stores where the company determines that level of security is needed.
“We recognize that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to creating a safe and secure environment for our costumers and associates in our stores,” Walmart spokeswoman Deisha Barnett told Business Insider. “It’s something that we are always looking at.”
Barnett said the company appreciated the feedback from Reddick and Tampa law enforcement.
“We will continue to make sure we have the right programs in place at each store,” she said. “We’re always assessing how we can get better.”
The company is tackling theft issues nationwide by bringing back greeters to its stores. Walmart had removed greeters from entrances four years ago so those employees could help direct shoppers and restock shelves.
Walmart made the decision to bring back the greeters earlier this year, following a test that started last year.
Walmart is also hiring what the company calls “customer hosts” to check receipts at the door at stores with high theft rates.
The customer hosts helped reduce calls to police by over 40% in six months at two stores in Arlington, Texas, Bloomberg reports.Walmartalso installed security monitors and other theft-prevention technology at the stores, according to the report.