- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 13, 2006

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. offered simple advice yesterday to potential shoplifters hoping to avoid prosecution under a new company policy that limits when the cops should be called: “Don’t test it.”

A union-backed group critical of Wal-Mart revealed this week a company policy that bypasses Sam Walton’s zero-tolerance stance against shoplifting. Thieves now will be prosecuted only if they lift merchandise worth more than $25, if they don’t identify themselves or if they are violent.

“We’re concentrating our resources on organized theft rings and high-dollar losses,” Wal-Mart spokesman John Simley said. “It simply is not efficient to prosecute most petty shoplifters at the expense of those high-dollar items.”

Still, Mr. Simley said, “Our stores are hard targets for theft, and we intend to keep it that way. Don’t test it.”

WakeUpWalMart.com distributed copies of the new policy this week, saying Mr. Walton, the company’s founder, had it right when he said shoplifting is the greatest threat to a store’s profitability.

“Deterring crime at any level is good for the country,” said Chris Kofinis, a spokesman for the union-backed group. “Wal-Mart has decided to go on a cost-cutting exercise and getting rid of loss-prevention people whose job was to prevent and deter shoplifters.”

Wal-Mart has been concentrating anti-crime efforts on organized-theft rings as WakeUpWalMart.com complained that the company was trying to save labor costs and reduce criticism from police departments about a high number of shoplifting calls.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Sharon Weber said last month that the company was adjusting where it placed loss-prevention specialists, with stores in high-crime areas gaining employees and stores elsewhere losing them.

WakeUpWalMart.com released details from the new policy Wednesday, including directions to call the police when high-value items were taken or when store employees caught a repeat offender. It also details how to track suspected shoplifters and when to let them go.

“It’s a good policy, but not if everyone knows about it,” said Anthony Liuzzo, a professor of business and economics at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. “I’m sure [Wal-Mart] want people to think, ‘We’re tough, and we’ll prosecute you for a dollar.’

“Don’t do it, but let people think you will,” Mr. Liuzzo said.

He said he could see the company’s logic in adopting the new policy, which took effect in March.

“It’s very expensive to prosecute a shoplifting case for a company. It makes sense for them not to prosecute for a $7 pair of socks,” he said.

Mr. Simley said he didn’t know whether publicity about the policy change would hurt the store.

“The reporting does remind people that it’s wrong to steal and that Wal-Mart is pretty effective” in catching thieves, he said.

Regardless of the $25 level that will trigger prosecution, Mr. Simley said Wal-Mart will still seek to catch people who steal items of lesser value.

“You walk in there and you steal something, you are more likely to get caught at a Wal-Mart than anywhere else,” he said.

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