Walmart using 'Restorative Justice' program to help stop shoplif - WSMV Channel 4

Walmart using 'Restorative Justice' program to help stop shoplifting

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Walmart's Restorative Justice program looks to tackle shoplifting. (WSMV) Walmart's Restorative Justice program looks to tackle shoplifting. (WSMV)
NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

Pull into any Walmart parking lot and you’ll notice two things: other shoppers and that someone is watching you.

Walmart, the largest retailer in the country, is pulling out all the stops to stop crime.

Last month, police say three men entered a Hendersonville Walmart and stole three TVs.

“When retailers lose $45 billion a year, about $20 billion … a year of that is due to shoplifting. It’s a very serious crime. I tell my students if they want to study property crime, go to the mall,” said Dr. Richard Hollinger, a retail crime expert.

Stores everywhere are not used to backing down to shoplifting suspects. Walmart believes a program called Restorative Justice, a nationwide anti-shoplifting program run by contractors and brought to Tennessee by Walmart less than a year ago, is the new way to fight crime.

Prior to the program’s introduction in Tennessee, Metro police said from January to June of 2016, 115 theft calls were reported at the Walmart store off Nolensville Pike. After Restorative Justice was launched, theft calls dropped significantly through the second half of 2016 to 65, nearly a 50 percent drop.

“We think it serves law enforcement in a meaningful way, because we’re not dispatching patrol officers to the stores to transport shoplifters when they might otherwise be working on arguably more significant issues,” said Mike Lamb with Walmart Asset Protection and Safety.

Walmart says Restorative Justice is about educating, not prosecuting, first-time, non-violent offenders. If they are caught and detained, they have a choice.

“The alternative to prosecution is an opportunity to be rehabbed through essentially an online course … that’s about eight hours in duration,” Lamb said. “We’ve seen a dramatic reduction in recidivism or repeat offense scenarios for those individuals who have successfully completed the program.”

Walmart officials want potential offenders to know they can’t just walk into a store, steal something and get away with it.

“If you’ve been charged multiple times or you have a history of repetitive shoplifting offenses, you’re disqualified from the program,” Lamb said.

“So then you’re going to be prosecuted?” asked Channel 4’s Tom Randles.

“That is correct,” Lamb said.

Shoppers told Channel 4 they are split on the retail giant’s approach to cutting crime.

“Sounds like it would be a good idea, I would think. They need to do something,” one shopper said.

“Good idea? Bad idea? No, if you’re stealing, haul you’re a** off to jail,” another shopper said.

Security expert Buford Tune said because suspects enrolled in the program must also pay a several-hundred-dollar fee, he is not completely sold on Restorative Justice.

“I hate to use the term extortion, but it kind of sounds like you’re kind of putting the person in the position,” Tune said. “If I don’t agree, I’m going to jail.”

C.E.C., a company that administers the program for Walmart, was sued in California for that very reason in 2015. Since that time, Walmart claims its employees are better trained and that suspects are carefully advised about their options for a program that essentially gives them a second chance.

“Make them a better person, help them understand the significance of the crime they’ve committed, but not put them in jail, not give them a record,” Hollinger said.

Whether people agree with the tougher approach or Restorative Justice, officials say it’s working. There have been reduced calls to police, and fewer shoplifting cases and repeat offenders.

Some experts believe stopping big shoplifting losses now could help consumers down the road, especially when some else skips the most important part of the transaction.

“The victims are companies that are for-profit organizations and are making a lot of money, and who cares whether or not they lose a lot? But we all pay for this. It all comes around in a circle,” Hollinger said.

Walmart claims the percentage of people who fall back into criminal behavior after Restorative Justice is less than four percent. They have also seen a 35 percent nationwide drop in calls to law enforcement since the program started.

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