JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Police officers in Jacksonville spent 3,533 hours -- the equivalent of 147 days – responding to petty crimes at Walmart stores in Jacksonville last year, I-TEAM research found.
Officers spent another 667 hours working shoplifting and other minor calls at Target stores in the city.
An analysis of data from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office found 5,298 police calls to the 15 Walmart stores in Jacksonville in 2015 – five times the number of calls to the eight Target stores in the city.
The Walmart on Normandy Boulevard had the most calls: 864. Shoplifting made up half of those calls, followed by thefts, then disputes.
The Walmart store at 103rd Street came in second and had 668 police calls for service last year, with the a similar breakdown of offenses.
The Walmart on Philips Highway had the third highest number of calls: 518. Shoplifting was the biggest crime reported, then disputes, then thefts.
What does this police work cost the taxpayers? Based on JSO-provided information, If a rookie patrol officer responded to each Walmart call, those hours would have cost $78,679 in patrol hours.
News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith says it is worth the money.
“When we think of police call outs, we tend to focus on the major crimes like homicides, robberies, home invasion robberies and burglaries,” Smith said. “But most police calls are for misdemeanor … which is part of a police officer's typical day.”
Smith said it's not the store taking up police resources, it's the person committing the crime.
"They are the ones taking up time and resources," Smith said. "Walmart is just trying to protect their interests and protect the interests of the public, because the more stuff stolen raises the cost for the law-abiding citizens that come in and pay for it later."
Regular Walmart shopper Tim Howell isn't surprised to see police cars outside the store where he shops.
"You're going to have disputes and you're going to have shoplifting in a big city,” Howell said. “Police are always around and show their presence, and I appreciate that.”
Smith said shoppers shouldn't be alarmed.
“When they are shoplifting, they are just taking items trying to get out of the store quickly,” Smith said. “They're minor calls, still it's a misdemeanor, it is still a crime, but not something that puts the public in danger.”
Data shows a different picture at Target. While there were 1,088 calls for police at Target stores in Jacksonville last year, the most were for thefts. Vehicle crashes were the next most common call, followed by disputes. Shoplifting was actually the fourth most common reason for the call.
The Target on Beach Boulevard had the most calls, followed by the Southside Boulevard store, then Roosevelt Boulevard store.
Undersheriff Pat Ivey told News4Jax that JSO monitors patterns of calls for service and began working with Walmart's regional asset protection manager about three years ago to address "the ongoing challenge of reduction of thefts in their stores. They have been very engaged in a cooperative working relationship with JSO and how to best address those apprehended, to prevent repeat offenses." [Read JSO's full statement]
Walmart also provided a statement when asked about the number of police calls to its store, which said in part:
"Our stores are located within 10 miles of 90% of the U.S. population. No retailer is immune to the challenge of crime … We are moving aggressively to address these issues -- most recently with expanding More at the Door, which bolsters a presence at the front of stores -- and we will do more."
Smith said diversion programs are a step in the right direction.
“It's not just solving the crime, stopping them from doing this crime, but looking at their lives in total and getting them on the right path in terms of their education and keeping them from committing more serious crimes in the future,” Smith said.
The I-TEAM asked JSO and Walmart for any data related to the diversion program known as Restorative Justice. JSO said those numbers would have to come from Walmart. Walmart so far has not responded.
Target was also asked for comment but had not responded by Monday afternoon.
City Councilman John Crescimbeni told the I-TEAM that a concern over certain businesses using “excessive resources” was a topic of discussion for the city’s NICE committee last year, previously known at the Blight committee.
Crescimbeni is a member of the NICE committee. He said the discussions last year looked at what other cities have done in regards to businesses and multi-family establishments using “excessive” amounts of resources, like police.
“Other cities have developed various models to charge those business and multi-family properties to pay for excessive use of police forces,” Crescimbeni said. “It’s not unlike a citizen's use of ambulance transportation and burglar alarms. Our discussion was applying it (pay per use model) to other chronic users such as bars with repeated bar brawls or shoplifting at certain retail stores. It was something that got put on the backburner and City Council can only deal with so many issues at once.”