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Published Sat, Feb 16, 2013 08:00 PM
Modified Sat, Feb 16, 2013 02:02 AM

High profile crime belies Wal-mart’s safety

- ajames@newsobserver.com
Following a police search last week when a man stole a TV from the store, and then hit a woman driving in the parking lot, how safe is the Wal-Mart in Clayton?
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- ajames@newsobserver.com

CLAYTON -- Almost every week, there are reports of new incidents of misdemeanor larceny, or shoplifting, at Wal-mart on U.S. 70. Two weeks ago, a television thief struck another vehicle in the parking lot before he fled into the woods, brought the incidents into a new focus, however, because Wal-mart wasn’t the only victim.

According to statistics released by Clayton police Chief Glen Allen, there were 60 crimes at Wal-mart last year that police responded to. The majority, 31, were larceny, people attempting to or leaving the store without paying. Five were shoplifting, when someone tries to conceal an item under their shirt, or swaps price tags. Eleven of the incidents were credit card fraud or identity theft, and four were assaults. Nine incidents were miscellaneous, including drug possession, counterfeit, and secret peeping.

Compared to other areas of town, the shopping center on Town Center Blvd. where Wal-mart is located does not have the highest number of police calls.

There were 1,405 calls for service to the Towne Center Shopping area, including the shopping center across the street where Starbucks is located, and the section of U.S. 70 in front of where both shopping centers are located. There were almost as many calls to the Riverwood community, which had 1,073 total calls for service in 2012. The Glen Laurel neighborhood had 427 calls for service in 2012.

Central Clayton, including downtown from Main to Moore and the side streets, had 9,597 calls for service in 2012. Not every “call for service” results in a criminal charge, or turns out to be a crime.

According to town spokeswoman Stacy Beard, every time an officer gets out of the car, he calls it in. He might be writing a ticket, talking to someone, or getting out of car to simply be proactive and be seen to establish a presence in a neighborhood. But that counts as a call for service.

The number of calls for service at Wal-mart has gone up in the past three years, with 511 calls in 2010, up to 654 calls last year, signifying a larger police presence at the store over time. While the calls of service have gone up, the number of calls that turned into criminal reports has gone down, with 87 crimes tracked at Wal-mart in 2010, down to 64 crimes tracked at Wal-mart last year.

“I think the number of crimes has gone down because our police are trying to be more proactive in preventing crime and having a presence there and all over town,” Beard said. “ It’s not that we’ve increased patrols there, and we certainly haven’t hired a whole slew of new police officers, it’s just those officers are making sure they’re more visible and doing what they call ‘PWT’s.’” A PWT is a a Park, Walk and Talk, which is when an officer gets out of his car, and interacts with people or businessowners. Each PWT is considered a call for service.

Allen said that there has not been an increase in crime near Wal-mart, so there is no plan to increase police presence in the area.

“That particular shopping center is clearly the busiest in town, so we already have a good police presence established in that area,” said Allen. “We’re not seeing any disturbing trends which would warrant an increase, but we continue to monitor our coverage of that area."

Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the store also has more opportunities for crimes and calls for service. Wal-Mart corporate spokeswoman Ashley Hardie said the company has a set of safety measures in place although they can vary from location to location.

“We work closely with police and rely on their guidance,” said Hardie. She said each store follows its own protocol, and some stores have security guards, though the store in Clayton does not. Each store has specific protocols in place for loss prevention inside the store, she said.

James: 919-553-7234

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