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Police address increased crime in retail areas

When a Walmart opens, the number of police calls to that part of town tends to go up, research shows.

It's a nationwide trend that's been discussed for years: when Walmart opens in a city, it leads to an increase in crime in that area.

Hewitt Police Chief Jim Devlin said it's true in Central Texas, but only to a point. Both Hewitt and Killeen's police departments said it's to be expected when foot traffic is that heavily concentrated.

"I think if you do crime mapping, in most communities, over those big box stores there's usually a big color area," Devlin said. "That will show the amount of activity from law enforcement."

In Hewitt, Channel 6 looked at the numbers since Oct. 1, 2017.

Citywide, the police department has taken 568 total reports, of which 102 originated at Walmart -- roughly 18 percent. Of those at Walmart, 82 were for theft.

In Killeen, there are four Walmart stores, two of which are branded as Neighborhood Markets. Those two stores combined for 10 calls in that time, six of which were for theft.

Near the Walmart located in the 3400 block of West Stan Schlueter Loop, there have been 50 calls, 13 of which were for theft.

The Walmart in the 1400 block of Lowes Boulevard in Killeen is located near several other major retail outlets, so it's hard to break it down by store. However, since Oct. 1, the block has received 229 police calls, of which 127 were for theft.

"It's nothing to Target, Walmart or any business," Killeen police spokeswoman Ofelia Miramontez said. "It's literally that shoplifting is an opportunity for a criminal."

Making that opportunity more difficult is something police departments are making a priority, in order to make sure they can protect the rest of the city.

"As a chief, it's important to me to make sure that my officers are available for other calls for service and that they're not tied up all day, every day at one particular location," Devlin said.

Walmart declined an interview, however outlined to Channel 6 how they are working to combat the issue they say plagues the retail industry, not just Walmart stores. A spokesperson said the company takes a 3-front approach:

  • People: includes Walmart's asset protection associates which patrol the store to try to deter would-be thieves and make sure everything is in order. This is in addition to partnerships with local law enforcement and security officers.
  • Programs: A Walmart spokesperson tells Channel 6 their "More at the Door" program puts an employee in a yellow vest at the door to serve as their last line of defense and work with store management to report anything suspicious.
  • Technology: This begins when a customer drives into a Walmart parking lot, as security cameras look out over the storefront. Inside, there are additional security cameras monitoring the merchandise some may look to steal

Devlin said the partnership Hewitt P.D. has with Walmart in their city has helped keep the numbers down to this point.

"They certainly don't want to be victims of theft, either," Devlin said.

And he's working on a plan to make sure it stays that way if growth continues.

Credit: KCEN
This real estate sign is located in a vacant lot next to the Walmart store in Hewitt, located along the access road of southbound I-35.

Devlin said if the growth continues in the city as it has, and if the field pictured above next to Walmart turns into additional retail space, he would consider making Walmart and the retail area one district for officers to patrol.

That would allow the department, should that happen, to try to keep the nationwide trend from growing in Hewitt.