TREASURE VALLEY -- "Save money, live better": the motto many Americans are drawn to.
A certain big box store attracts shoppers from all walks of life. But it's not just customers who keep visiting Walmarts in our area. It's also local law enforcement.
7 Investigates' Morgan Boydston investigated and found the store has gained notoriety for its reliance on taxpayer-funded officers. Data shows officers are making repeat visits to many local Walmarts every day or every other day, sometimes multiple times a day.
The Treasure Valley touts low crime rates all around. But across the area, the major box store has earned the reputation as a hot bed for crime, giving local law enforcement a lot of business.
Police say retail giant Walmart is a magnet for all sorts of delinquency on a daily basis.
"Any box store like that you're going to get a lot of shoplifting type calls," Meridian Police Chief Jeff Lavey said.
But we found there are more serious calls, too, involving burglaries, domestic batteries, child abuse, drugs and fights among a number of other crimes.
Take the June 2016 gang argument in a Nampa Walmart parking lot, for example, that ended in a bullet piercing a little girl's arm.
"We need to feel safe, and with things like that, we're not safe, we don't feel safe," the victim's mother, Tarah, told KTVB in 2016.
In Nampa, both Walmarts landed in the top five locations for 911 calls in 2017. More than 900 calls total came from the city's two Walmart Supercenters: the Walmart on 12th Avenue Road had a total of 522 calls for service and the one one Franklin had a total of 380.
About nine miles west in Caldwell, there were 467 calls to the Walmart Supercenter on Cleveland Boulevard, helping boost the area around the store to number one for calls for service.
GARDEN CITY AND BOISE
The issue is also going on in Ada County; Walmarts, or the areas around them, rank in the top five places for calls for service in 2017. We investigated and found pages and pages of Ada County dispatch call logs from last year listing "Walmart" as the address.
Walmart was the top business for calls for service in 2017 in Boise; Walmart on Overland Road off South Vinnell Way had 571 calls to dispatch.
In Garden City, the same trend exists at the State Street Walmart. Records show there were 310 calls for service there, ranking the number of calls to just below a major intersection known for car accidents.
Garden City police tells KTVB they have an annex police station in Walmart which was a condition in order for Walmart to be built there. However, they don't have a full-time officer there.
Boise and Garden City police say they've worked with the store over the years and recently to try to reduce crime and it's worked in the past.
A captain in the BPD crime prevention unit said over the years the department has worked with Walmart managers at 8300 Overland to try to reduce crime at and around the store. They say the majority of the calls are for shoplifting or theft, but they are "currently working with other law enforcement agencies, our crime prevention unit and Walmart managers to find ways to reduce police calls for service and overall crime at the store. Efforts like this have been successful in the past and we are hopeful that progress will be made once again."
Meridian, the core of the Valley. has three of these major box stores. Their police chief says the repeated visits to Walmart do add up, considering their relatively small police force of fewer than 100 officers and "thin resources".
When asked if that was frustrating as a department, Chief Lavey said he doesn't want to blame Walmart.
"Because if it's not Walmart, it's somebody else. And we have to go where the calls are, we have to service those," Lavey told 7 Investigates. "Sometimes, yeah, we might get caught up and be frustrated but if it's not that box store it's someone else that is going to be taking up our time."
That was time amounted to repeat visits practically every single day to at least one of the Walmart stores in Meridian.
Ada County dispatch reports show more than 240 calls to dispatch were made for the Walmart on Overland Road in Meridian last year, and nearly 300 for the store on Fairview Avenue.
Some crimes are store-related, some reports just use Walmart as a point of reference and some are happening in the parking lot, a Walmart corporate spokesman points out.
"And those are just the cases where we become the back-drop and the victim, so to speak, of an incident in the parking lot," Walmart Corporate Communications National Media Relations Director Ragan Dickens told 7 Investigates.
Compared to other stores in Meridian, there's a lot more calls to Walmarts and it's demanding on law enforcement resources.
7 Investigates checked Ada County dispatch records for other popular chain stores in the city. The two Fred Meyers in Meridian each had about half as many calls as the Walmart on Fairview, 24-hour WinCo Foods had about one-third the amount and the Target in Boise bordering Meridian had nearly one-fifth the amount.
"I think it's the business model they have," Chief Lavey said. "They are open at all hours of the day."
"They have a business model that really has low prices and who wouldn't want to shop at a place that has the best prices? So you get a wide range of people there as well," Lavey added.
Meridian city leaders say the corporation's late hours and positions on busy streets are what are generating the calls, along with its theft protection.
"The nature of bringing lots of people together to a confined space, it's inevitable that crime is going to follow," Meridian City Councilman Luke Cavener told KTVB.
"By sheer numbers you're having more opportunity there," Dickens added.
Dickens tells KTVB the high volume of calls shows their asset protection teams and in-store and parking lot cameras are doing what they're supposed to.
"We are working to harden the target to make Walmart a more difficult place to shoplift and commit a crime," Dickens said. "Yeah there are some police calls because our people and our technology are doing their jobs, which is to get these people who are committing these crimes out of the store to give our customers and associates a better experience."
Meridian's police chief agrees.
"The one thing Walmart has going for them is they have proactive loss prevention people and so really it equates to if you're going to do a crime don't do it in Walmart because the chances are you're going to get caught. But it does generate a lot of business for us," Lavey said.
Cavener said he doesn't feel the retail giant is a burden but the increased calls pose challenges that come with growth.
"I think where I, as a council member, would get concerned is if there are so many calls for service that they feel they are not able to meet the needs of everywhere else in our community," Cavener said. "If the chief says we need more officers because of the crime that's occurring at a Walmart then I stand ready to support him in that need."
When asked what could change, Lavey tells 7 Investigates he doesn't know if anything could.
"I think it's the type of business that is there that's just going to attract this. We talked about having a police officer in the stores at all times. That's not cost effective. Could it help something? Yeah, it might help something," he said. "It's one of those things, it's a large corporation, as you know, so we have not reached out to a national level or corporate level. We've reached out on a more regional level to work with us and say how can we minimize the impact you have?"
Walmart Supercenters here in the Treasure Valley have limited hours and are not open 24 hours. A Garden City police officer says that's helped curb really late night, early morning crime.
- Boise Overland Road Walmart: 5 a.m. - 1 a.m.
- Garden City Walmart: 6 a.m. - 1 a.m.
- Meridian Fairview Ave Walmart: 5 a.m. - 1 a.m.
- Meridian Overland Road Walmart: 6 a.m. - 12 a.m.
- Meridian Ten Mile Walmart: 6 a.m. - 12 a.m.
- Nampa 12th Avenue Road Walmart: 5 a.m. - 1 a.m.
- Nampa Franklin Road Walmart: 5 a.m. - 12 a.m.
- Caldwell Cleveland Boulevard Walmart: 5 a.m. - 12 a.m.