Arlington Police, Walmart Gain International Attention for Shoplifting Program

As Assistant Police Chief over Arlington PD's field operations, it's Kevin Kolbye's job to take a big picture look at the problems plaguing the community and come up with new strategies to eliminate them. 

Back in 2015, he noticed his officers were spending a lot of time responding to calls at big retailers like Walmart.

"When we started looking at crime drivers in Arlington, a lot of it was shoplifting and thefts," said Kolbye.

He says at its peak, officers made 89 arrests for theft / shoplifting at the three Walmart locations in Arlington in the span of about one month. That's problematic not only for the stores, but for the greater public safety.

Kolbye says shoplifting calls generally require two officers to respond, who then have to recover the stolen items, transport offenders to the city jail, file paperwork, and appear in court to testify during hearings.

"So you're talking about on just one shoplifting or theft call -- it can eat 10, 12, up to 15 hours of officer time," said Kolbye.

That's time the department would rather see officers spend attacking more serious and violent crimes or ramping up community policing efforts.

So Kolbye approached executives at Walmart to see if there was something they could do. The company was already in the process of trying to improve loss prevention strategies at its stores -- and eagerly jumped on board.

As part of that initiative, the Arlington Walmart locations put several new security measures in place, including additional staff at store entrances and more visible monitors alerting customers they were being watched on surveillance systems.

Arlington Police then agreed to have a handful of officers routinely patrol the stores on foot and occassionally park decoy police cars in store parking lots.

But Kolbye says the critical piece of this program -- giving offenders the opportunity to redeem themselves.

Anyone caught shoplifting for the first time at one of the Walmart locations could avoid being charged and arrested altogether, if they successfully completed an educational program that explains how shoplifting hurts the community.

"Like a lot of crimes, you can't just arrest your way out of shoplifting or theft," said Kolbye. "Hopefully what [this program] does -- it gives the individual who gets a second chance to think twice about committing another shoplifting or theft."

It appears people are getting the message.

Since launching the program in October 2015, calls for service at Arlington's three Walmart locations are down 55 percent and shoplifting / theft arrests are down 65 percent.

That, in turn, has saved officers more than 12,000 hours of time.

"It's exceeded our expectations," said Kolbye.

Earlier this month, Arlington Police, Walmart, and the Corrective Education Corporation (which provides the offender educational program) were invited to the International Association of Police Chiefs Conference where they received three major awards for the program.

Walmart has since implemented similar programs in more than 2,000 of its stores nationwide. In a statement, the company said:

“We’re encouraged by a 35% reduction in calls to law enforcement agencies nationwide, on average, since we began implementing Restorative Justice and other crime deterrence programs. We’ll continue our outreach to law enforcement across the country as part of our ongoing commitment to meet our customers’ and associates’ expectations of a safe and enjoyable shopping experience.”

Arlington Police say they're in the process of engaging with other retailers to develop similar programs.

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