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Activists Say Whitehall Walmart Is A Drain On Police Resources

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Activists with the "Expose Walmart Tour" say they want to draw attention to the retailer's corporate practices.

Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, has long been criticized for its massive buying power and lower prices that can drive smaller stores out of business. Now some activists are accusing the retailer of relying too much on local police for security at a store in Whitehall, and others around the country.

But Whitehall Police disagree.

The Expose Walmart tour stopped at the Whitehall Walmart at 3657 E. Main Street on Wednesday. Activist Amy Ritter says it’s part of a nationwide effort to try to draw attention to Walmart corporate practices.

The tour is led by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, one of the unions that have long pressured Walmart to improve wages and work conditions.

Ritter points to police figures that show 1,099 police calls for service originated at the Whitehall store in 2016. Of those, police say 686 were “self-initiated,” meaning they came to the store in the course of an investigation and weren’t called by managers.

The other 413 police visits were for dispatched calls.

“This is coming from a multi-billion dollar giant that could easily afford to hire adequate security,” Ritter says.

Ritter says the high volume of police visits to the Whitehall store follows a trend they’ve seen around the country.

“When you have the largest private retailer in the country that profited $13.6 billion last year, offloading their security costs onto local police, paid for by the taxpayer, it makes you wonder if Walmart really is being the best community business that it can be,” Ritter says.

But the retailer is helping foot at least some of that cost.

Whitehall Deputy Police Chief Tracy Sharpless says Walmart pays to keep a special duty officer at the store 12 hours a day, seven days a week. At his department’s rate of $45 per hour, that would equal $196,560 a year.

Sharpless says his department has special duty officer arrangements with 15 other businesses.

“I do not think they rely too heavily on police,” Sharpless says.

Neither Sharpless nor Ritter could provide figures on how Walmart compares to other large retailers, although Sharpless says his department does receive “a lot of calls” for the East Main Street store.

For its part, Walmart calls itself a leader in anti-crime efforts. Corporate spokesman Blake Jackson says stores have seen a 35 percent decline in police calls since implementing a Restorative Justice program.

“The program offers first-time, low-risk offenders a second chance in order to make things right by participating in an educational course in lieu of prosecution,” Jackson write in an email. “The recidivism rate (percentage of people who relapse into criminal behavior after an intervention) for Restorative Justice is just 2 to 3 percent, depending on the provider.”

But that reformative justice comes at a cost: Those who choose to enroll in the program have to pay $400 if they can pay the entire amount up-front, or $500 if made in payments.