WRAL Investigates

Police question security at Wal-Marts

Posted September 15, 2008

— North Carolina is home to nearly 130 Wal-Mart stores, offering customers an array of merchandise and low prices. Some law enforcement officials said the stores also provide plenty of opportunities for criminals.

Lumberton police, for example, were called to a Wal-Mart at 4301 Fayetteville Road nearly 630 times between January and mid-October last year.

Last month, a 78-year-old woman was attacked in the store's parking lot, and her purse was stolen. A 71-year-old woman was mugged in the parking lot earlier in the year.

Police calls at Wal-Mart far exceed those at other shopping centers in town, said Lt. Johnny Barnes of the Lumberton Police Department. He added that he has seen a drop in calls since the department ramped up patrols near the Wal-Mart.

Barnes and other law enforcement officers said the sheer size and popularity of Wal-Mart can invite trouble. The chain has more than 3,000 stores nationwide, many of which are open 24 hours a day, and company officials say they have about 200 million customers.

"Just the number of people that go there attracts the criminal element," Barnes said.

Ann Marie Copelin, 60, was loading groceries into her car outside the Wal-Mart at 3725 Ramsey St. in Fayetteville shortly before 10 p.m. Aug. 12 when she went from being a customer to a crime victim.

"The next thing I knew, I was surrounded by three women," Copelin said. "I was too terrified to scream or run. I just did what they said."

The women forced her at gunpoint to drive to a bank and used her debit card to withdraw $500. She wasn't injured in the incident.

Other area Wal-Marts have been the scene of crimes this summer as well:

  • An employee was beaten with a baseball bat at a Clayton store on Aug. 7
  • Another employee was shot while on break at a Clinton store on July 17.
  • A gun was fired inside a store in Sanford on Aug. 1.
  • A rash of purse snatchings occurred outside a store in Hope Mills.

"I think there's a lot of things that (Wal-Mart) could do that they're not doing," Barnes said. "The best thing that they could do is hire some type of security there to work in the parking lots."

In 2004, a Washington-based activist group, Wake Up Wal-Mart, analyzed 551 stores nationwide for the entire year. North Carolina had the highest rate of police calls, averaging 398 incidents for each of the 28 Wal-Marts profiled.

The study also compared the retail giant with Target. At a Wal-Mart in Greenville, for example, police were called 664 times in 2004. The Target store one-tenth of a mile away had 159 calls during the same period.

Wal-Mart spokesman Dan Fogleman said many of the police calls are for fender benders in the parking lot or for bad checks, not criminal activity.

"Nothing is more important than providing a safe and pleasurable working environment for our customers and our associates," Fogleman said in a phone interview from Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. "Unfortunately, criminal activity occurs in every community. It's something retailers, especially large retailers like us, must work toward alleviating."

Every Wal-Mart has surveillance cameras, and the company decides on a store-by-store basis whether to hire private patrols or off-duty police officers for additional security, he said.

Two private security cars, for example, recently were seen patrolling the parking lot of a Wal-Mart on Skibo Road in Fayetteville.

Wal-Mart is "constantly evaluating the security measures we have in place," Fogleman said.

Wake Up Wal-Mart estimated putting security patrols at all Wal-Mart stores nationwide would cost the retailer about 4 cents per monthly customer visit.

"Any security firm that you would put patrolling the parking lot would help. I think it would be a deterrent," Barnes said.

The store where Copelin was kidnapped has no security patrols, but she said she doesn't blame Wal-Mart for what happened and said she plans to keep shopping there.

"I won't go by myself after dark. I won't go to Food Lion by myself after dark," she said.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • manofjustice Sep 16, 2008

    I posted a comment earlier but somehow it got deleted. I think we need to start looking towards the jail systems in foreign countries. If we had jail systems like Mexico or Honduras maybe it would deter us from criminal acts and it would deter illegals from coming into America. Just a suggestion. Or open up the closed down jails and when illegals or gang bangers commit crimes put them in those jails with the same rules as Mexican jails. Just a thought. No more 3 hots and a cot. No more conjugal visits. No more family visits. Work from sun up until sun down and eat only stale bread and share one jug of water.

  • Space Mountain Sep 16, 2008

    Wal-Mart is too cheap to spend money on good security. That one guy saying Wal-Mart is not anymore dangerous than any other shopping store is a joke. It's all about who goes shopping there. Look at who shops at Target vs. Wal Mart. I know Wal Mart is cheaper, but I hate going there because of the usualy folks who shop there.

  • Adelinthe Sep 16, 2008

    "Look to see who fills up our jails & prisons...these are the types of people committing the crimes at Wal-Mart."

    Well sure, but Wal-Mart doesn't do much to squelch those things either, like having security in the parking lots or additional lighting.

    As much as they're making off their customers, a couple of rental cops in golf carts patrolling every parking lot would be a drop in the bucket, and yet would provide so much ease and comfort to those they CLAIM to care MOST about - their customers.

    God bless.

    Rev. RB

  • wxfreak Sep 16, 2008

    Agreed ljcs...There's nothing wrong with Wal-Mart as a whole...but when you cater to this type of clientele this is clearly the end result. I wonder what the crime statistics are like between McDonald's and i don't know say..Sweet Tomatoes?

  • onyourheels2 Sep 16, 2008

    it's got so bad at the wal-mart that i go to, that smiley face has a frown and tears streaming from it's eyes.

  • ljcs357 Sep 16, 2008

    And who are the people committing a majority of the crimes at Wal-Mart? Wal-Mart is not the problem. Look to see who fills up our jails & prisons...these are the types of people committing the crimes at Wal-Mart. Nobody wants to address it though for fear of being considered a racist. I can read the police reports in the local paper and, based on the names published, can tell you who is committing the crimes. How about addressing the real problem?

    Yourself included. So problem solver, address the problem or get back to work. Spare us the cliche speech full of hot air.

  • Adelinthe Sep 16, 2008

    pink - "whip your child, or threaten to, in front of a walmart employee...the police will be there in no time!"


    Well, not always the case. When I worked in management at the Garner store, a boy of about 9 was acting up something terrible. The dad took him beside some clothing racks and smacked his hiney just as I was walking by trying to figure out what the commotion was about.

    The dad looked at me and kinda hung his head. I said to him quietly, "Hit him again! I won't tell anyone." And I walked away.


    Yes, I did!

    God bless.

    Rev. RB

  • Adelinthe Sep 16, 2008

    "...but they also need to have the courage to ask people to leave or call the law and have them removed."

    Some do, take my word for it...but not nearly often enough.

    God bless.

    Rev. RB

  • Dolphan Sep 16, 2008

    It makes me sick when I read about violent crime but it makes me mad when the victims are the elderly. Not only are these thugs but they're cowards too..

  • hywilson Sep 16, 2008

    Its almost like Wal-Mart appeals to criminals some how. I only go to the one in Knightdale or Wake Forest. My friends sister-in-law had a lap top case stolen out of her car one Saturday in the middle of the day at the WM off New Bern. And she wasnt parked very far from the door. Amazingly noone saw anything..ummm