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WREG investigates the high number of Walmart calls to MPD

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- A News Channel 3 investigation uncovers details about whether one of the country's largest retailers is using your tax dollars to help pay for security.

It's a shopping mecca for deal hunters, but one of the nation's largest retailers is also a haven for petty crime.

Who could forget the viral video of two women scrapping in the shampoo aisle of an Indiana Walmart!

City leaders in Beech Grove, Indiana, fed up with police runs to the retail giant, declared the place a public nuisance and decided to levy fines for excessive calls.

Randy Parraz is the Director for Making Change at Walmart.

He told WREG, "Local communities need to stand up and say we're going to start billing you Walmart, for all the security you're getting from our police officers."

Making Change at Walmart is a campaign spearheaded by a union that monitors issues like workers rights'. Now, the group is taking on Walmart over its calls for service to police.

"We found a pattern where Walmart, instead of doing the right thing and investing and hiring sufficient workers to staff their stores and also invest in appropriate security for their stores, they're off-loading their security at the taxpayer cost to local police officers," said Parraz.

So, is the company that pulled in $482 billion in revenue last year, draining your pocket and our police officers' time?

The News Channel 3 Investigators dug through documents and found there were 2,698 calls for service from local, Walmart Super Centers to the Memphis Police Department over a 12-month period.

That equates to seven calls a day. That's more than the calls for service from local Target and Kroger stores, Southland Mall and Wolfchase Mall.

The Regional Medical Center had the exact number of calls as Walmart stores combined.

The Walmart, in Raleigh on Austin Peay, accounted for the bulk of the calls.

Employees at that Super Center called MPD 987 times from May of 2015 to May of 2016. In fact, records show police are often called to the store multiple times a day.

Most are requests for police to pickup someone already being held at the store (called a Holding Prisoner call), followed by disturbances and theft.

News Channel 3 found cases where Walmart employees called police after being ripped off for as little as $48 in merchandise.However, there were also larger thefts, like the time a guy walked out with nearly $1,000 in baby formula.

Parraz claimed a lack of discretion is part of the problem, saying police could be focusing on more serious crimes.

"It could be for a $2 item, a $5 item, a $100 item."

So, how much does it cost when police go out for say, a shoplifting call?

MPD told WREG it varies.

WREG's review of a snapshot of calls revealed some took under 30 minutes, where others took more than two hours. If the average patrolman spent just an hour on those 2,698 calls last year, that costs more than $61,000.

Colonel James Kirkwood heads up the precinct that covers the Walmart on Austin Peay.

"We answer calls for service, we're going to continue to answer calls for service," he said.

He said management at that Walmart has been extremely effective with security and is a good, corporate partner in the community.

Plus, he said not relying on police could make security matters worse.

"Sometimes shoplifters can be disruptive. They don't want to get caught so they'll fight, it can be a problem. So not calling the police, it can turn into something huge. It can turn into something very, very critical," added Col. Kirkwood.

But according to Parraz, cities that investigate the calls, get an even better response from Walmart.

"We also discovered through this process that Walmart, when they've been caught on it, they have made changes."

Walmart said their calls to police have decreased nationwide.

A spokesperson also told WREG they've added more Customer Hosts, those folks with the yellow vests at the door, and increased training for internal security.

They said it's up to store managers to decide if a location needs beefed up patrol, like off-duty officers.

Walmart also has a program where first-time offenders can avoid prosecution by participating in an educational class, but there's a fee required.

Walmart Statement to WREG:

“No retailer is immune to the challenge of crime. We recognize the importance of this issue at the highest levels of the company, and we are investing in people and technology to support our stores. 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, in communities like Memphis, and across the country as part of our ongoing commitment to meet our customers’ and associates’ expectations of a safe and enjoyable shopping experience.”