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Wal-Mart relaxes its theft policy

Lisa Napoli Jul 13, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Wal-Mart’s a big company. So it tends to dominate businesses in the communities it inhabits. What’s less well-known is that it often dominates another part of the community: the police force. Word today of a change in policy at Wal-Mart that might change that. Marketplace’s Lisa Napoli explains.


LISA NAPOLI: Shoplifters, listen up. Wal-Mart has relaxed its zero-tolerance policy. It used to prosecute anyone caught lifting anything from its stores. Not any more.

Lately, the world’s largest retailer has stopped prosecuting first-time thieves who steal anything that costs less than 25 bucks. John Simley of Wal-Mart explains why:

JOHN SIMLEY: In a lot of cases it’s simply not efficient to prosecute most petty shoplifters, especially if it’s at the expense of the high-dollar losses.

The mega-retailer would rather focus on shoplifting rings, or employee theft. Now, the world’s largest retailer wasn’t exactly advertising its slackened shoplifting policy. Internal documents got leaked to The New York Times by a disgruntled former employee.

Lots of people, of course, are disgruntled by Wal-Mart, including law enforcement types, who in some areas are called many times a day to the stores to make arrests.

Security expert Ralph Witherspoon says the relaxed policy was a good idea, except:

RALPH WITHERSPOON: The fact that it’s now on the front page of The New York Times hurts somewhat.

Witherspoon says shoplifting costs retailers something like $16 billion a year. Although, of course, no one really knows exactly.

I’m Lisa Napoli for Marketplace.

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