By Al Norman
It's been a quiet week in Wal-Mart parking lots and bathrooms. The market may be tanking, but crime at Wal-Mart shows no signs of slowing down.
Nothing out of the ordinary happened this past week at Wal-Mart---just the litany of usual bomb threats, drunk driving, child molestations, armed robberies, and assorted mayhem. While you were shopping for Mickey Mouse Lawn Furniture in Aisle 6, every miscreant on the planet seemed to be converging on Wal-Mart parking lots or bathrooms. Just this past week:
· Sunday, March 16: A 28-year-old man was arrested at the Santee, California Wal-Mart after a 9 year old boy reported being assaulted in the store's bathroom. The boy was in the bathroom while his mother waited outside. Police say a man grabbed and groped the boy over his clothing. The boy ran out of the bathroom and told his mother about the assault. The woman then reported the assault to Wal-Mart staff and the Sheriff's Department.
· Tuesday, March 18: A Wal-Mart in Bismarck, North Dakota reports another bomb threat. The south Wal-Mart received a call at 9:05 am from a caller who said a bomb been placed in the store. The employee who answered the phone asked where the bomb was, and the caller hung up the phone. The store was evacuated, and employees searched the building, A member of the bomb quad responded and found nothing suspicious.
· Tuesday, March 18: Two girls ages 7 and 12, were browsing the toy aisle at the Indiana County, Pennsylvania Wal-Mart when a man grabbed them. Police said the assault was caught on surveillance video. The man can be seen walking through the same aisle as the girls several times before he approached them and grabbed them from behind. One of the girls screamed, which caused the man to run away. The girls found an adult in a nearby aisle, who alerted store managers.
· Wednesday, March 19: A Wal-Mart customer service worker in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma was stabbed after an argument with four teenagers. Officers said employees tried to break up the argument at a store in northwest Oklahoma City at about 10 p.m. One of the teens pulled out a knife and stabbed the man several times. He is in serious condition at a local hospital
· Thursday, March 20: A woman filed a suit against Wal-Mart after she was abducted and dragged around the parking lot.
The victim, from Hedgesville, West Virginia had her purse-snatched in the mall parking lot adjacent to Wal-Mart. The suit says she finished shopping at approximately 7 p.m. and began unloading her groceries from her cart into her car. The woman claims she was abducted by another female and dragged into her vehicle. Her abductors threw her pocketbook out of the vehicle, but continued to drag her while she was partially out of the vehicle. According to the suit, the same people victimized another female earlier in the day at the same parking lot.
· Thursday, March 20: Police in Cedar Rapids, Iowa responded to a reported bomb threat at Wal-Mart, but found soon after arriving that the threat was a hoax. An anonymous caller threatened to blow up the store's pop machines. After a search of the area, it was determined there was no validity to the caller's claims. "There are a lot of bomb threats that get called in, and you have to take them all seriously, but a lot of them are unfounded," a police spokesman said. Customers at the Wal-Mart were not warned about the call due to the clear lack of credibility of the threat, according to police.
· Thursday, March 20: Police in Papillion, Nebraska arrested a man on suspicion of groping a woman inside a Wal-Mart store. Pictures from a surveillance camera were used by police to find and arrest the assailant. Investigators said he never touched the woman with his hands, but is suspected of making inappropriate comments and pressing himself against her.
· Friday, March 21: Police in Pascagoula, Mississippi are investigating an attempted armed robbery and assault of a woman at a Wal-Mart, which took place around 2:40 pm. The unidentified victim was taken to Singing River Hospital by a private vehicle. Because her name was not released, her condition was unavailable.
· Friday, March 21: One person was arrested after shots were fired during an armed robbery at a Wal-Mart in northwest Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The victim was robbed at gunpoint in the parking lot. Investigators said the victim and robber got into a struggle over the gun, and at least one shot was fired. The robber ran off, and the victim followed. Air units followed a suspect, and police took him into custody.
· Friday, March 21: Three schools in Brandon, Florida were locked down in the mid-afternoon because of a robbery at a nearby Wal-Mart. The schools were locked down for an hour. The security measure took place after a man walked into the Wal-Mart on East Brandon Boulevard, smashed an electronics case, took eight iPODs, and carried them out of the store in an empty shoebox.
· Friday, March 21: Winona, Wisconsin police said a man who got in a scuffle at Wal-Mart turned out to be drunk and driving with his young children. Police responded to a call from the Wal-Mart Supercenter of a man fighting with several other people. The scuffle started when a group of people noticed a man "acting aggressively toward one of his children." When several of the people in the group told the man to "stop hurting the child," a fight broke out, which led to the call. The man was taken into custody and booked for third-degree driving under the influence,
· Saturday, March 22: Two men on their way to a prayer service in Winter Haven, Florida discovered the body of dead man in the driveway of a church. Police identified the man as an employee of the Wal-Mart distribution center down the street from the church. Police said the victim may have been attacked near the Wal-Mart distribution center, and his body dumped at the church.
Wal-Mart has become a national stage for almost every kind of human drama: domestic violence, stalking, murder, rape. It all happens in Wal-Mart parking lots. It also happens in Target parking lots, Home Depot parking lots, and other sprawling roadside attractions. But it happens more often at Wal-Mart because it controls more than 4,000 U.S. parking lots that make very convenient staging areas: they are crowded, they are near the interstate, and they are easy targets.
If this criminal activity were just a corporate problem, it would be bad enough. But the cost of this crime to the public runs into the millions of dollars annually. There is the cost of the responding to incidents, the investigations, the write ups, plus the arraignments, the court dockets, the trials, etc. These are all public costs that are not often figured into small town budgets. One big box store in Massachusetts named a local cop as it's "employee of the year" because he spent so much time chasing after shop-lifters fleeing from the store.
Wal-Mart has been less than forthcoming about the extent of its crime problem. But the subject has been a sore point for more than a decade. In 1996, the company's Vice President for Loss Prevention admitted that "80% of crimes at Wal-Mart were occurring not in the stores, but outside their walls, either in the parking lots or in the exterior perimeter of the stores."
Wal-Mart promises you will find low prices at its stores--Always. Based on police logs this past week across America, you will also find a wide assortment of crimes against persons and property---Always. After all, criminals need to "live better" too.
Forbes Magazine has called Al Norman "Wal-Mart's #1 Enemy. Norman is the author of the book "Slam-Dunking Wal-Mart: How You Can Stop Superstore Sprawl In Your Hometown."