Walmart program is reducing calls to service for Tampa Police

TPD presented new findings to Tampa City Council
Posted at 1:42 PM, Jun 23, 2016

A new program by Walmart is reducing the number of calls for service to some of their stores, according to the Tampa Police Department.

Walmart is starting a new program that they call a "diversion program," which will be used to punish people differently if they are caught shoplifting items of lesser value, like under $25.

The program - in effect at two stores now in Tampa, but expected to be applied regionally - requires shoplifters to pay restitution, and even take an online class.

In exchange, Walmart isn’t calling the police and those shoplifters aren’t being arrested.

The store on E. Hillsborough Avenue where the program was implemented on June 1 is just about a year old, so it’s too early to compare statistics from one year to the next, say Tampa Police.

The other store has seen a decrease in calls for service, according to Tampa Police Major Lee Bercaw, who spoke for the city department today in front of the Tampa City Council.

The report to the City Council comes about a month after Council member Frank Reddick requested the report, when it became public knowledge that local Walmart stores were accounting for an enormous number of police calls, and, in doing so, were a drain on city police resources.

Frank Reddick even said he’d met with Walmart’s management to talk about security problems, and asked Mjr. Bercaw about his thoughts on the progress. Bercaw said the program appeared to be making a real impact.

The Walmart store on N. Dale Mabry Highway has been using the diversion program since May of 2015. From January through April of 2015, there were 486 calls for service to that store, according to data provided by the Tampa Police Department and presented to the Tampa City Council on Thursday. From January through April of 2016, there were 294 calls for service, which is nearly 40% less than the same time period the year before.

Tampa Police say these include “self-initiated” calls, in which a Tampa Police officer was already on scene, because they regularly patrol these high-volume stores.

At the Walmart store on Bruce B. Downs Blvd., there has also been a significant reduction even without the program: there was 703 calls for service at that store from January through April of 2016, down from 1,229 calls for service from January through April of 2015.

Tampa Police Mjr. Bercaw pointed out to the Tampa City Council that those numbers are so high in part because there are several schools nearby, and also because Tampa Police often train officers at that location.

Last month Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist told ABC Action News that Walmart was costing taxpayers too much money and was calling for the retail giant to do something about it.

“Sixteen thousand calls a year coming from the Walmart stores, there’s got to be a way to reduce that call quantity,” said Crist to ABC Action News back in May.

Crist suggested that Walmart pay for more security, or essentially police their own property.

An ABC Action News investigation last year revealed the the problem was even more widespread - in Port Richey, nearly half the crime came from their local Walmart store, mostly in the former of pretty thefts.