FOX 4 Investigates: Who’s securing Walmart’s low prices?

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Police across the metro area know it is their duty to answer calls for help, no matter where they originate. In the metro, one mega retailer logs significantly more calls to police than any other.

FOX 4 contacted eight police departments in the metro to find out how often they answer calls to Walmart. In total, officers respond to nearly 5,000 calls to Walmarts across the metro.

FOX 4's findings made at least one police chief take a closer look at the demand these calls put on his officers and on department resources.

"It has gone up so slow that when I looked at it I was a little like 'wow! we do get a lot of calls over there,'" said Gladstone Police Chief Mike Hasty.

In Gladstone, police responded to 779 calls to the Walmart Supercenter in 2015, making it the number one source of business calls. The second highest number of police calls came from the Gladstone Home Depot with 101 calls. That means Gladstone police responded to nearly eight-times more calls to Walmart than to Home Depot.

A majority of their calls to Walmart are for thefts. Items totaling $20 or less, costing Gladstone police more to respond to than what the merchandise is worth.

The investigation uncovered a similar pattern across the metro. Police in the seven other cities we checked with responded to significantly higher number of calls to Walmart than to other big box stores, like Target.

In Independence, police responded to 877 calls to the Walmart on Bolger Road last year. In comparison, police responded to 69 calls to the Independence Target just a half-mile away.

In Lee's Summit, Police answered 383 calls to the Walmart on Sam Walton Lane in 2015. Police responded to 79 calls to Target.

John Hamilton, a retired Kansas City police major and Park University professor, said shoplifting is a crime of opportunity and there are many low cost strategies businesses can take to reduce shoplifting.

"If I see something left unattended, or something that looks like no one is paying attention, it will just usually be that trigger that causes the crime to occur," said Hamilton.

Hamilton said the high number of shoplifting calls could lead to slower response times by police to more series crimes.

"If you have a city that has four officers on patrol and you have to take one of them out to come to a place like this and spent 45 minutes to an hour on a report and all of that... and two other officers get a call, you're really in trouble," said Hamilton.

Walmart said they are aware of the issue and are trying to address it. Walmart initiated a nationwide program called "More at the Door" on June 8th to provide a stronger presence at the front of stores. The program was initiated in Lee's Summit and Independence Walmarts.

Rankings of 2015 Police Calls to a single Walmart from Highest to Lowest:

1). Independence: 877 calls

2). Gladstone: 779 calls

3). Lawrence: (3300 Iowa Street) 685 calls

4). Lee’s Summit: 383 calls

5). Kansas City, Missouri: 351 calls

6). Lawrence (550 Congressional Drive) 338 calls

7). Olathe (395 N. K 7 Hwy): 317 calls

8). Overland Park (7701 Frontage Road): 267 calls

9). Olathe (13600 S. Alden St): 250 calls

10). Shawnee: 205 calls

11). Overland Park (11701 Metcalf) 193 calls

Ranking of 2015 Target calls:

1). Olathe (15345 W. 119th St.) – 258 calls

2). Lawrence: 135 calls

3). Overland Park: 113 calls

4). Kansas City, Missouri: 94 calls

5). Lee’s Summit: 73 calls

6). Independence: 69 calls

7). Olathe: (20255 W. 154th St.) 47 calls

8).  Shawnee: 27 calls

Walmart response:

“No retailer is immune to the challenge of crime. That’s why we invest in robust technologies and crime prevention efforts while also working closely with law enforcement, security professionals, and community leaders. We are moving aggressively to address these issues – most recently with expanding More at the Door, which bolsters a presence at the front of stores – and we will do more.

Our stores are located within 10 miles of 90% of the U.S. population, and we’re proud to serve 140 million customers each week.  We know how important it is to maintain a safe and secure environment for our customers and associates, and we continually evaluate and work to strengthen our safety measures.

The importance of this issue is recognized at the highest levels of the company. No level of violence is acceptable in our stores. We are confident in the work done so far. But we know we can do better, and we will.

Wal-Mart began testing a program last year to see how effective it would be to add more staff at the door. The results were positive. At two stores in Arlington, Texas, having employees check receipts helped reduce calls to police by about 40 percent over six months, said Kevin Kolbye, assistant chief of the Arlington police.

Our asset protection associates work to deter and stop illegal activity but they’re not law enforcement. We value the partnerships we have with law enforcement agencies throughout the country and we value their feedback and cooperation which is greatly appreciated.

We don’t take a once size fits all approach when it comes to how we approach safety and security in our stores.  Our measures are specifically tailored to the needs of individual stores and reviewed and updated on an ongoing basis. That’s why we invest in robust technologies and crime prevention efforts while also working closely with law enforcement, security professionals, and community leaders.”