‘Walmart’s bleeding this town,’ official says as Raytown faces police layoffs

As Raytown city leaders and police officials wrestle with cutting more than $3 million from the police budget — and eliminating as many as 17 officers — they are seizing upon a particular burden on police: Walmart.

In a city of about 10 square miles officers made more than 500 arrests last year at the Walmart store at 10300 E. U.S. 350. The store is the scene of about 30 percent of Raytown’s reported serious crimes.

Meanwhile, Walmart does not contribute taxes for police services. The TIF deal that built the store a decade ago diverts about $300,000 in tax dollars away from public safety every year.

On Tuesday, as the Raytown Board of Aldermen talked with police officials about cutting about 30 percent of the department’s budget and its full-time positions, Alderman Eric Teeman suggested labeling the Walmart a “public nuisance.”

“Right now, we’re getting this much from Walmart,” Teeman said, making a “zero” sign with his hand. “Walmart’s bleeding this town.”

For Walmart, the complaint is one the company has heard before.

“Crime at the store level — no retailer is immune,” said Ragan Dickens, a company spokesman. The retail giant employs uniformed security at many of its stores, Dickens said, including off-duty law enforcement officers at the Raytown store.

Teeman’s comments spoke to frustration in Raytown at financial pressures that have led to budget cuts in all city departments. For the police department that means losing 30 jobs, including 17 officers, 10 full-time civilian workers and three full-time civilians. It will mean fewer detectives working cases, Raytown Police Chief Jim Lynch wrote in an open letter to the public Monday.

The cost to local governments of policing Walmarts — more than other, similar retail chains — has been noticed across the country. Last year, the Tampa Bay Times showed that local law enforcement agencies in that area were called to Walmart stores more than any other location. Experts criticized the retail chain for shifting the burden of security to taxpayers.

In Raytown police have noticed the outsized amount of time their officers spent at Walmart, said Raytown Police Maj. Randy Hudspeth.

“There’s quite a bit of research on some of these big box stores, specifically Walmart, and jurisdictions all over the country and how they are a drain on local resources,” Hudspeth said.

City departments lose out on hundreds of thousands of tax dollars from Walmart each year because of tax increment financing incentives that the city offered Walmart to build the store — just before the Great Recession. Plans for more development surrounding the Walmart haven’t panned out.

The budget cuts in Raytown are scheduled to take effect Nov. 1.

Alderman Teeman suggested declaring the Walmart a public nuisance, which might allow the city to charge Walmart for public safety services. The suggestion was met with applause in the public meeting hall.

“I’m not messing around,” Teeman said.

“That escalated quickly,” Hudspeth said.

Raytown city officials said Wednesday they were not actively working on anything related to Teeman’s public nuisance suggestion.

Chief Lynch said Walmart does hire off-duty officers for security at the store. But on-duty officers still must respond to calls at the store, Lynch said, which drains resources.

In May, a Jackson County sheriff’s deputy working off-duty security at the store shot and killed a 31-year-old man during an altercation that began with a shoplifting arrest. That shooting is still under investigation, according to authorities.

Lynch said he is researching how other police departments have managed call volumes at their local Walmarts. So far, he said, he hasn’t found any clear answers.

Walmart has defended its security policies, saying that if its stores generate a lot of police calls, it is because the company is catching a lot of criminals.

In addition to uniformed security officers, Walmart employs plainclothes anti-shoplifting employees and has invested in security cameras and other technology.

Dickens, the company spokesman, also pointed to another security feature: the greeters.

Standing at the front doors of Walmart stores, the employees greet customers, answer questions and check receipts.

“But they also serve as that first and last line of defense,” Dickens said. “We put a lot of focus into catching these criminals, so yes we call the police.”

Ian Cummings: 816-234-4633, @Ian__Cummings