Walmart Is Taking Shoplifting into Its Own Hands

If someone is accused of shoplifting at a retail location, it is not only embarrassing for the accused, but also burdensome for the owners or employees of the retail store. It can take some time for police to arrive at the scene and properly arrest a shoplifter, and the store may have other responsibilities to law enforcement after the individual has been arrested and faces time in court.

It’s even worse for retail giants like Walmart, who have become been known as hubs for shoplifting. At many locations, multiple calls are made to police in one day.

Well, now Walmart is beginning to take matters into its own hands – without involving the police.

Restorative Justice at Walmart

Walmart has begun implementing a “Restorative Justice” initiative in some of its retail locations in an attempt to deal with accused shoplifters, prevent future crimes, and avoid the hassle of going through local law enforcement.

The idea behind the program is that people caught allegedly shoplifting at Walmart can complete education courses, many offered online, instead of getting police involved and being charged with a crime. These courses come from Corrective Education Company (CEC), and have been designed to provide lessons about how theft affects businesses, the economy, and the shoplifters themselves.

Supporters of the program have said that having it in place has already led to a sharp decrease in the amount of calls that retail locations have made to the police. The program also has benefits for those who have been accused – while shoplifters still face fines and must complete an education course on the consequences of shoplifting, the incident will not result in a formal arrest and a mark on their criminal record. For many, these programs could save them months – or even years – in jail.

Other retailers, such as Burlington Coat Factory, DSW Inc., and certain regions of Goodwill Industries, have already begun to use CEC services.

The Problem with Walmart’s Restorative Justice

Colorado Shoplifting AttorneyBut Walmart and CEC’s initiative isn’t exactly perfect, and some say it inflicts harsher punishments than our legal system does. In fact, CEC is already facing a lawsuit.

The San Francisco City Attorney recently filed a lawsuit against CEC, claiming that the company’s “justice” involves gouging shoplifters and even false imprisonment. The lawsuit was filed after a woman was accused of stealing $6.97 from a Goodwill Industries store. She was brought to the back of the store and told she needed to pay $500 to take the CEC’s six-hour course on shoplifting.

$500 for $6.97 worth of items?

Remember that this was based on an accusation of theft, not a conviction. If you are convicted of stealing under $500, you may face three months to one year in jail, and fines of between $250 and $1,000.

But that’s only if she was convicted. And for stealing something valued at $6.97, it is also quite possible that her charges and penalties would be significantly reduced from what’s listed above.

Let’s not forget about false imprisonment, either. While CEC claims they allow participants to seek legal counsel or opt out of the program, the San Francisco City Attorney claims that methods of “coercion” and “deception” are used to keep participants secluded and continuing in CEC’s program. If the City Attorney’s claims are proven to be true, then CEC is guilty of false imprisonment.

There is no doubt that Walmart and other retailers across the nation have a crime problem. But is coming up with a new kind of punishment – one that removes law enforcement from the equation – really the answer? Some critics of the program suggest that, rather than punishment, Walmart should focus more on loss prevention, which could deter individuals from shoplifting in their stores in the first place.

If You Are Accused of Shoplifting

What to do if you are accused of Shoplifting in DenverFacing an accusation of shoplifting can be confusing and frightening – especially if you are not familiar with your state’s criminal justice system. Don’t be bullied. Know your rights and the legal process for accusing and arresting an individual of a crime.

If you are accused of shoplifting and are forced to participate in a restorative justice program, you may have a lawsuit on your hands. False imprisonment is a serious offense. Charges of false imprisonment can lead to jail time and big fines.

The following evidence can be used to prove a false imprisonment charge:

  • Documentation of how long you were held
  • The reasons or justification authorities used to keep you there
  • Any use of threats or force
  • Any use of physical restraint

Whether you are held through a restorative justice program or by law enforcement after being accused of retail theft, it is important to contact a Colorado defense lawyer immediately.

About the Author:

Denver-based criminal defense and DUI attorney Jacob E. Martinez is a knowledgeable and experienced litigator with a record of success providing innovative solutions to clients facing criminal charges of any severity. Mr. Martinez has been designated a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers and has been awarded both the Avvo Client’s Choice Award and Avvo Top Attorney designation, evidencing his reputation for his exemplary criminal and DUI defense work and high moral standards.