Study suggests correlation between Walmart and crime

February 19, 2014

Walmart’s growth over the years has impacted the U.S. economy in more ways than one. The big box retailer has even been called the nation’s social force, but a recent study paints an entirely different picture: Could Walmart and crime rates be related?

The study, published in The British Journal of Criminology, suggests that crime rates dropped in U.S. counties where Walmart was not present and stunted crime declines where it was. The research, which took into account over 3,000 counties between 1991 and 2009, was conducted by Scott Wolfe, an assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice at University of South Carolina.

The study reveals that there was a steep decline in the crime rate in the 1990s when Walmart was flourishing. However, places where Walmart expanded saw a stagnant crime rate, which should have otherwise dropped.

Scott Wolfe says that the research was conducted to find out if the Walmart effect can help us understand crime rates during this time period. According to Wolfe, “If the corporation built a new store, there were 17 additional property crimes and two additional violent crimes for every 10,000 persons in a county.”

A Walmart store

Walmart stores across US have become virtual magnets for all kinds of crimes. Image by: Nicholas Eckhart

Crime within the proximity of Walmart

Walmart often makes headlines for crimes occurring inside and outside the stores. According to the Walmart crime report, the most common type of criminal incidents that take place on the stores’ premises are shoplifting and theft.

Instances of armed and unarmed robbery, in which criminals demand money directly from cashiers, were also prevalent.

Why Walmart stores are vulnerable to crimes

The Walmart report points out that “being the largest grocery store in the world and with the large customer base that comes along with this fact, it should not be surprising that crimes occur on the premises on a fairly regular basis.”

A documentary on Walmart exposes the vulnerability of the stores’ parking lots where 80 percent of the crimes take place. Although surveillance cameras and security guards cover all areas inside the store, the parking lots are devoid of security measures for employees and customers.

Previous studies also indicate that Walmart stores are “crime attractors” because they provide more opportunities to steal from the store, from customers, or from parked cars.

How the big box retailer chooses its location also has a bearing on the crime it triggers. Researchers indicate that Walmart chooses to open its stores in counties with less social capital. Residents here do not stand up for their community or resist intervention of retail giants that force smaller stores out of business. On the flip side, Walmart fails to set foot in counties that actively resist establishment of big box stores like Walmart. Incidentally, these are the counties that have lower crime rates.

Walmart stores help improve communities, officials say

Defending the stores, Dianna Gee from Walmart Corporate Communications asserts that the research actually favors the thesis ‘more Walmart, less crime’ and that crime rates saw a drop in some areas where Walmart was present. She points out that the study also says that “Walmart stores are located within 15 miles of 88 percent of the population and that the company has been shown to significantly increase the number of retail jobs, reduce product prices and have a positive effect on social capital in certain areas it occupies.”

The study’s findings “simply don’t reflect reality,” Rosalyn Carneiro, Walmart Canada spokeswoman, wrote in an email. “It provides jobs right through from when the first foundation is dug to when the first customer is served, while driving down the price of everyday essentials and helping to sustain communities and keep them thriving.”

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Category: Neighborhood Watch, News, security, Surveillance

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