9 Investigates

Walmart has become crime magnet in many North Carolina cities

HICKORY, NC — It is the nation's largest retailer, employing one and a half million workers in the U.S. alone. But Walmart has also become a magnet for many crimes - exhausting local police departments across our area.

In Hickory, it is not uncommon for police to end up at the Walmart Supercenter along Highway 70 Southeast.  We've seen officers responding every day of the week, both day and night. During the last year alone, police records show nearly every type of case imaginable from car break-ins and robberies to fraud and shoplifting.

Among the shoplifting arrests was Desaray Stolling, who was charged with stealing a pair of pants.   We showed her the paperwork for her arrest and the hundreds of other cases in Hickory.

"For me, my family, and friends, it was very embarrassing," she said.

Stollings isn't alone.  Over the course of one year, police in Hickory worked 202 shoplifting cases at the Walmart Supercenter.

In Granite Falls, police say they respond to their Walmart Supercenter on a daily basis.  Some of the calls can take more than an hour of an officer's time as they review surveillance video and conduct interviews inside the store.

"92 percent of our larcenies [for the entire town] are at Walmart," said police captain Chris Jenkins. "When you look at one hundred percent of our larcenies, 92 percent were at Walmart."

Police say they are working closely with the retailer to reduce those numbers by letting the store's security handle the petty thefts.  Burke, Caldwell, and Catawba County District attorney David Learner is trying to reduce the number of repeat offenders.   He says Walmart often bans people from the store who steal items.    He says if they return to commit another theft he charges them with felony breaking and entering or habitual larceny.

"When somebody is going to prison for five years instead of thirty days I think it has an impact on them in terms of specific deterrence, and word gets out with the people they run with, and that's what we call general deterrence," he explained.

Walmart says they are working to deter crimes at their stores.  During one shopping trip, a person passes at least a dozen surveillance cameras both inside and in the parking lot.  There's also plainclothes security patrolling the stores looking for thefts.

"We have the technology front.  I mean, you have everything from eye-level cameras.  You have the cosmetic bullpens in some stores where it's stationed off and an associate working in there.   We're also shifting from the whole detection to the deterrence concept," said Ragan Dickens with Walmart.

Walmart says that focus allowed them to reduce calls to police by 30 percent in 2016 and another 15 percent last year.

But Desaray Stollings told us she believes those efforts go too far.  She has been arrested in four different counties for thefts at local businesses and now faces a habitual larceny charge for her arrest for stealing the pair of pants.   It is an allegation she denies.

"I would advise people if you shop at the Hickory Walmart they are known to harass people and just be careful," she offered.

But police say they believe Walmart - despite the number of calls - is trying to work with local law enforcement.  District Attorney David Learner says anyone caught will face consequences.

"They need to straighten up their act, but in the absent of that they need to take it somewhere else than the 25th district because we're gonna bare down heavy," he said