A tale of two Wal-Marts: cities deal with stores' policing needs

Vadnais Heights and Roseville, two recent recipients of Wal-Mart Supercenters, have found that although the retail hubs attract crowds of shoppers, they also require a good deal of police attention, leading the cities to look for ways to help cut the cost of increased policing.

The Wal-Mart store in St. Anthony Village remains vacant after it was closed earlier this year in favor of a location in Roseville near a Metro Transit Park & Ride lot.

Vadnais Heights: get 'rebate' on calls

Vadnais Heights' Wal-Mart Supercenter located on County Road E opened in 2011, and by the end of 2013, city officials had noticed a marked spike in police calls within the city. They found nearly one quarter of the increase was due to calls to the store.

At its Aug. 20, 2014 city council meeting, Vadnais Heights approved a deal with Wal-Mart in which the corporation will pay the city nearly $10,000 this year to help cover the costs of increased policing. Another payment of a little more -- based on a 3 percent consumer price index increase -- is due in 2015.

Vadnais Heights does not have a police force of its own, and instead contracts with the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office. The city pays Ramsey County on a per-call basis. 

The city arrived at the figure by first determining the average increase in call volume since 2011, and then calculating Wal-Mart's share of that increase. The overall increase in the cost of policing was $46,000, and Wal-Mart's portion was figured at about $9,660, or 21 percent.

"This isn't the final answer," said Vadnais Heights city manager Kevin Watson at the meeting. "We want calls to be reduced."

Watson said it's difficult to put a price tag on each call, as each differs in duration and involves different numbers of deputies at different rates of pay.

"A majority of the calls are shoplifting or theft in general from the property," Watson said. "But there are a number of medical calls to the site and general investigations as well."

In 2012, 396 calls originated from the store, and there were 364 in 2013.

The deal between Vadnais Heights and Wal-Mart will be re-evaluated for 2016.   

Watson said Wal-Mart has been "very hospitable to discuss this with and are great community partners."

Roseville: add a 'virtual squad car'

The Wal-Mart Supercenter in Roseville, located at County Road C and Cleveland Avenue, opened April 9 this year, and Roseville Police Chief Rick Mathwig said he had anticipated activity at the store would affect the police department.

"The location of the Wal-Mart was basically a vacant or sleepy parcel of land used for trucking for the last 20 years," Mathwig said, noting that its previous use required little policing.

Looking at the number of calls originating from comparable stores in similar cities, Mathwig said he projected 700-900 calls from the store per year.

So far, that projection seems accurate.

Mathwig said that if the trends established during the first 90 days of the store's operations continue, the Roseville PD will field about 940 total calls to the store during its first year of business.

That figure includes proactive police visits, in which the police stop by the store without a call and just monitor activity and make their presence visible, Mathwig said.

Actual calls for assistance are on track to hit about 780-790 calls over a year, running "the whole gamut of calls for service."

Asked to compare yearly figures, he said "by far" more calls go to Wal-Mart than a comparable store in the city, like the SuperTarget, near Snelling Avenue on County Road B, that averages 150-200 police calls per year.

Mathwig said the volume of police calls a business generates depends upon how often they will call about shoplifting, the monetary value of the stolen items and other store policies.

Mathwig said during the summer of 2012, plans for dealing with the predicted increase in calls were discussed within the city. His preferred plan was that the store essentially would pay the cost of one police officer and one squad car -- at a price tag of $1.2 million over 20 years -- to make up for the increase in patrolling.

However, after discussions, Wal-Mart and the city agreed Sept. 24, 2012 that the store would hire off-duty Roseville police officers to be onsite for 24 hours a week. Mathwig stressed that Wal-Mart was under no legal obligation to offer any recompense.

The store also purchased a laptop that the Roseville PD owns and provides a Wi-Fi Internet connection and office space to the off-duty officers. The laptop functions as a "virtual squad car," as Mathwig describes it, where police can issue citations, check for warrants and process on-site crime suspects.

Like Watson in Vadnais Heights, Mathwig said everyone at the Roseville Wal-Mart, from supervisors to employees, have been good to work with.

The deal between the company and city runs until 2017. When it ends, Roseville and Wal-Mart can renew the deal or end it, with the police department keeping the laptop.

Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7824. Follow him on Twitter @mmunzenrider.

 
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