Discount Store Crime: Cashiers, customers put safety at risk as corporations turn big profits

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- You've seen the stories and surveillance pictures, but WREG is digger deeper into crimes at local discount stores.

The News Channel 3 Investigators combed through police data and uncovered glaring security concerns that put workers and shoppers' safety at risk.

In fact, it's gotten so bad, even police are asking for change.

WREG learned Memphis police are called four and a half times a day to local discount stores, but the problem reaches beyond the numbers.

It's the pregnant cashier who quit her job after having a gun held to her head.

The female employee held up twice in two weeks at the discount store she managed.

There are customers, particularly in some of Memphis' poorest neighborhoods who depend on these stores, yet run the risk of becoming a victim.

So, when will these corporations make changes to protect the very people responsible for boosting their profits?

Evander Green worked at a Dollar General on Macon Road in Cordova for about six months last year.

"I opened the store, I closed the store, I made bank deposits," said Green.

As an assistant manager, Green learned how the store operated, including it's safety and security procedures, or in his opinion, a lack thereof.

"Their thing for security was their cameras, or was us. I mean, us putting our lives in jeopardy for y'all's stuff."

One day last June, brazen thieves locked Green out of the stock room, backed up to the dock and made off with hundreds of dollars in merchandise.

Green told WREG, "Y'all just proved to me y'all don't care about me, and y'all don't care about my associates. Y'all don't care about the people who are in the store when something like that could happen."

Green says that's when he put in his two weeks notice.

"My life is more important than a store that don't care."

Police records show that Cordova, Dollar General Green helped manage, had 75 calls to police over the past three years.

However, that's nothing compared to others.

The Dollar General in Frayser on Thomas, had almost six times the calls.

WREG researched calls for service to MPD from Dollar General, Dollar Tree and Family Dollar stores from 2014 through 2016.

We reviewed calls from 83 stores in Memphis (city limits only).

The News Channel 3 Investigators also examined a year's worth of Part 1 crimes. Those are more serious offenses.

Combined, the stores accounted for almost 5,000 calls to police during that three year period.

That equates to four and a half times a day.

Family Dollar had the most calls, it also has the most stores, followed by Dollar General, then Dollar Tree.

Calls for service represent anything from burglar alarms, to disturbances, but the News Channel 3 Investigators also found calls related to more serious crimes.

The bulk of those were for shoplifting, but there were also aggravated assaults, carjackings and lots of robberies.

Verna Henderson was in line at Dollar Tree on Lamar near Bellvue at 9:00 a.m one morning, when the person next to her pulled out a gun and robbed the cashier.

"And when she opened that cash register, he just 'whoom' and flew out that door!"

Henderson added, "I'm looking around like what in the world just happened."

Henderson says she shopped at that Dollar Tree at least once a week.

The closest full scale grocery was miles away.

WREG asked, "And you used to walk up there?"

"Yeah, like I'm fixing to walk up here to this one in a few minutes," replied Henderson.

She's since moved, but has a similar routine at a Dollar General in North Memphis.

Henderson says "I be afraid when I go in because I'm thinking about that."

However, that doesn't stop her.

Click here to use our interactive map of store robberies.

WREG has also learned, the discount stores count on customers like Henderson.

Their footprint is huge in low income communities, allowing them to profit off lots of people who live below the poverty line.

Dollar Tree, which now owns Family Dollar, raked in $15.5 billion in sales last year.

Sales for Dollar General were close to $20.4 billion.

Henderson raised the question, "These people are putting their lives on the line to make you money, why can't you make them...safer?"

Dollar General, which is based outside Nashville, refused our request for an on camera interview.

An emailed statement reads in part, "the safety of employees and customers is a top priority."

Dollar General Statement

A spokesperson for Dollar Tree said it employs security guards "as deemed appropriate".

Dollar Tree Statement

MPD'S Colonel Samuel Hines says crimes at discount stores are on their radar.

"It's been on the forefront of our robberies, when we look at our business robberies."

He heads up the Mount Moriah station.

Ironically, on the day of our interview, a Family Dollar in his district, was robbed.

"In my station alone, we got about 15 of the discount stores, in my area, so that's more than one per officer that I have on the shift," explained Hines.

Colonel Hines says through the Safe Streets Task Force and its new Violent Crime Unit, MPD plans to make recommendations to corporate leaders at the discount stores about heightened security.

"Anything from lighting to camera systems and if they can afford it, and it can be worked into their corporate plan, some of them may need to have physical security officers in the stores," said Hines who explained having a physical presence creates a barrier for crooks.

Evander Green now manages a grocery store, where he says the atmosphere is much safer.

He says says he hopes his former co-workers can get the same.

"They make good money so I feel like they can afford to pay security to come in and monitor the store."

By the Numbers

Family Dollar

  • 2410-Calls for service (2014-2016)
  • 723-Part 1 crimes (2016, some data included December 2015)
  • 39 stores reviewed

Dollar General

  • 2055-Calls for service (2014-2016)
  • 520-Part 1 crimes (2016, some data included December 2015)
  • 27 stores reviewed
  • Dollar General operates 31 stores in the Memphis area

Dollar Tree

  • 507-Calls for service (2014-2016)
  • 103-Part 1 crimes (2016, some data included December 2015)
  • 17 stores reviewed
  • Dollar Tree/Family Dollar operates 70 stores in the Memphis area

Dollar General: 100 Mission Ridge, Goodlettsville, TN, 37072, 615-855-4000

Dollar Tree: 500 Volvo Parkway, Chesapeake, VA 23320, 757-321-5000

**UPDATE (as of 2/10/17)**

Col. Hines informed WREG Memphis police met with officials from Family Dollar this week. He says MPD made recommendations similar to those outlined during our interview. He says corporate leaders told them, they plan to possibly add off duty officers in some stores. WREG will continue to follow this story.

 

Store robberies map

Click to enlarge