Mesa Police angry with Wal-Mart

  Mesa Cops think they are our masters of us citizens and we should obey their orders! We are told that the police and government are "public servants" but they seem to think they are our masters.


Police say Wal-Mart snubbed efforts to cut shoplifting

by Senta Scarborough - Jun. 27, 2008 08:40 AM

The Arizona Republic

Mesa police are using the equivalent of two full-time officers to answer shoplifting calls at Mesa Wal-Marts, but efforts to help the big-box retailer curtail theft have largely been pushed aside.

Thefts at Wal-Mart's seven Supercenters rose 89 percent from 2006 to 2007, police records show. Police estimate thefts will rise 117 percent this year if the January-through-May numbers continue at their current pace.

Police were called to Mesa Wal-Marts on 376 shoplifting thefts in 2007, with thieves generally targeting electronics, clothing, beauty products and alcohol. Mesa police brought their concerns to local and corporate Wal-Mart representatives last fall and have since provided detailed crime statistics to help focus the store's loss-prevention efforts and offered expertise to bring down crime.

In March, the department's four-member crime prevention unit conducted a free CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) assessments at the seven Wal-Mart Superstores. Out of that came an 18-page report to help protect the stores from thieves.

"We are targeting where the problem is," Mesa Police Chief George Gascón said. "We want the thefts to stop and believe we can reduce them considerably."

But Wal-Mart's response has been disappointing, he said.

"They are not seeming to want to work with us. They say the right things and never follow through," Gascón said.

Wal-Mart corporate spokesman Dan Fogleman said the chain appreciates the department's efforts "to identify these people breaking the law and prosecuting them to make our community safer."

"We are always open to discussion, and we evaluate suggestions against the needs of our customers and business as a whole," he said.

But Wal-Mart has apparently yet to adopt any of the suggested changes.

"It has cost the city twice with lost opportunity for sales tax and police resources, processing and court costs," Gascón said. "We are not asking them to spend money. It's really altering business practices."

But Fogleman said the company's top priority is the security of its customers and employees.

"Nothing is more important than providing a safe and pleasurable (shopping experience) and working environment for customers and associates," Fogleman said. "Unfortunately, crime occurs in any community."

Prevention strategies

In the past nine months, police have provided data that show not only what merchandise is being stolen most often but also the peak times and days for theft.

Among the changes Gascón would like to see:

• Have greeters check receipts when a customer enters for returns and leaves the stores with purchases, much like Costco. Last year, Wal-Mart agreed to implement a similar program called Asset Protection Exit Greeter Program, a pilot approach used in its Las Vegas stores, to at least one Mesa store. The program was supposed to start this year but has not. Fogleman said the program hasn't come along as quickly as the company had hoped, but added it's no guarantee that police calls would drop. He said calls actually could increase because they might catch more people.

• Put a uniformed security guard at the main entrance as a visible crime deterrent. The store's asset-prevention staff is plainclothes security.

• Enclose the electronics "bullpen" areas so people would have to pay before they leave the area.

These and other issues prompted Gascón to ask for a meeting in Mesa with a corporate representative, but the request was passed back to a local Wal-Mart representative. Communication has been slow.

"We are not anti-business or anti-Wal-Mart," Gascón said. "They do bring in money to the city, but it isn't a license to waste police resources."

Target has been working with Mesa police and has seen an 18 percent decline in shoplifting cases from 2006 to 2007, said Mesa police community partnership coordinator Denise Traves, who oversees a program working with business to reduce crime.

"The solutions are simple, not expensive, easy to implement. It's not rocket science," Traves said.

Wal-Mart has participated regularly with the Mesa Retail Asset Protection Program, created last fall by Mesa police. The group meets monthly with local retailers to share information on shoplifters and organized retail-crime suspects.

Fogleman said Wal-Mart's asset-protection staff takes measures to prevent crime and aggressively works to catch lawbreakers.

Some of the recommendations made by Mesa crime prevention specialists already were in place, including pan, tilt and zoom surveillance systems and crime prevention signs warning of prosecution and video surveillance.

Fogleman said Wal-Mart promotes "aggressive hospitality" where employees acknowledge any customers within 10 feet as a way to help welcome people and prevent crime.

But police said there is no consistency in crime-prevention measures at the stores.

"What we are seeing is they have a desire to meet the needs, but, unfortunately, I don't know if it meets their marketing strategies," Traves said. "I don't know how much they have tried. We have attempted to educate them and they are not getting it. We are just not seeing the effort."

Top Mesa shoplifting locations

January through May 2008

• Superstition Springs Center: 184*

• Fiesta Mall: 112*

• Wal-Mart, 1955 S. Stapley Drive: 91

• Wal-Mart, 4505 E. McKellips Road: 83

• Wal-Mart, 857 N. Dobson Road: 77

• Wal-Mart, 240 W. Baseline Road: 55

• Target, 1230 S. Longmore: 55

*Total includes several stores in the mall.

Source: Mesa Police Department