Shoplifting at Walmart — and getting caught — was expensive for shoppers until very recently. A first offender could choose to pay a few hundred dollars, attend an educational program and emerge absolved of their sins. Or they could choose not to — and be prosecuted.
However, that system is coming to an end, as the practice of asking accused shoplifters to pay to avoid prosecution is coming under additional scrutiny.
Walmart’s shoplifting program is offered in conjuction with Turning Point and Corrective Education, a Utah-based firm that specializes in providing an alternative path for those caught committing crimes like shoplifting than the criminal justice system.
Walmart’s choice to suspend the program follows a ruling from a California court that Corrective Education’s program violates state extortion laws.
Walmart affirms that the program has lowered their calls to police, yet they do admit that the program is not entirely beloved.
“It’s not welcome everywhere, and I want to understand that better,” said Joe Schrauder, the retailer’s new vice president of asset protection and safety. “We want to make sure we are partnering with local government.”
The firm was created by two Harvard Business School grads, Darrell Huntsman and Brian Ashton, who were seeking a way to balance the fact that stores must punish shoplifting (or risk becoming a target for it) with the reality that criminal charges can have serious reprecussions for people’s lives.
As of 2017, The Wall Street Journal reports that tens of thousands of first-time shoplifting suspects have paid for the educational programs. The firm is known to have partnered with Target Corp., Bloomingdale’s, Burlington Coat Factory and Goodwill Industries.
The accused shoplifter is shown a video and given 72 hours to decide whether to enter the program. The program costs $400 up front — or $500 if paid out later. If the shoplifter declines to pay, they are warned that the retailer may look at “other legal rights to seek restitution and resolve this crime.”
It’s a compelling sales pitch: 90 percent of suspects enroll. Some retailers used to receive a portion of the fee, but that practice has been on the wane since 2015.
Retailers usually receive about $50 to $75 in restitution from each offender diverted into the Crime Accountability Partnership Program, the formal name for the program offered by NASP and Turning Point.
Lohra Miller, a former district attorney for Salt Lake County, said she canvassed law enforcement agencies, seeking collaboration and approval, before establishing Turning Point in new communities. Most agencies are receptive, she said, but not all.
Complaints about the program have come from various corners. Joshua Marquis, the district attorney in Clatsop County, Oregon, noted that the fines are in excess of what they would face if the accused actually were referred by the police. Marquis is likely to give a first-time shoplifter a citation and order him or her to perform community service.
Rep. John Lesch, a Minnesota state lawmaker, noted that retailers should not be allowed to create their own justice systems where there are no rules of evidence.