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‘They are the shoplifting magnet of the metro:’ Unions call for more security at Walmart

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OKLAHOMA CITY - Local labor and education unions are calling for Walmart to crack down on crime, at the risk of wasting taxpayer dollars.

A group, known as Making Change at Walmart, has started a nationwide campaign for an issue that's received national attention: high levels of crime at neighborhood superstores.

"We're asking Walmart to step up and do like all the other stores do and provide security at their stores," said Jimmy Curry, president of the Oklahoma AFL-CIO. "It should not be the taxpayers that have to foot the bill for Walmart."

Oklahoma City police acknowledge the metro Walmart locations are among the most frequently visited for various crimes, though MSgt. Gary Knight told NewsChannel 4 there are few retailers that can compete with the size and foot traffic. Oklahoma City police also receive proportionally more calls at shopping malls, he said.

"Arresting shoplifters is what we are tasked to do," he said, noting there is no difference in cost in responding to calls in one location or another.

But protesters, standing outside a Walmart at I-240 and Santa Fe Ave., say the store isn't doing its part in fighting crime.

"This Walmart alone has had over 1,700 phone calls through September of this year," Curry said. "Police and taxpayers are having to pay for it."

Curry, other labor leaders and the OKC American Federation of Teachers delivered a poster to the store Thursday, labeling the store the "shoplifting magnet of the metro."

"I think it's a symbol for the company, just to bring more attention that with the billions of dollars they make in profit, they could provide a little more of their own security and not count on taxpayer dollars to do all that," said Tim O'Connor, president of the Central Oklahoma Labor Federation. "Creating a safe work environment for employees and a safe shopping experience for customers is what we're here to talk about."

O'Connor and Curry want to see Walmart employ more security guards to reduce crime, while also pushing cities to adopt ordinances to punish businesses it sees as trouble spots.

A draft of an ordinance calls for $2,500 fines for every call to police in excess of 10 each month.

“No retailer is immune to the challenge of crime, and we are investing in people and technology to support our stores," Walmart wrote NewsChannel 4 in a statement. "We’ll continue our outreach to law enforcement in Oklahoma City and across the country as part of our ongoing commitment to meet our customers’ and associates’ expectations of a safe and enjoyable shopping experience.”

The company has already rolled out efforts to fight crime at its stores, including a "More at the Door" program, placing specially trained employees at certain locations. The so-called "Customer Hosts" check receipts and keep entrances safe, with special training to deter shoplifting.

Walmart representatives say they've also invested $2.7 billion in increased training, education and higher wages.

But perhaps the most effective tool has been the "Restorative Justice Program," a spokesman told NewsChannel 4, offering first-time shoplifters an educational course instead of pressing charges. As a result, the company says it's seen an average 35 percent decrease in calls to law enforcement agencies across the country. Only 2-3 percent of people who enter the program commit additional crimes, a spokesman said.

"That's a really good start and we're glad to hear that," said Curry, leading the union charge. "That's why we're here. We want them to stand up and do the right thing."