BY KAREN SCHMIDT
Rio Rancho police were called to arrest shoplifters at the Unser Boulevard Walmart an average of six times a week last year, according to data from the Rio Rancho Police Department.
Over the past five years, Rio Rancho has seen a steady increase in shoplifting incidents — most of which end in arrest. Since 2008, the number of incidents spiked by more than 81 percent from 248 shoplifting crimes to 451 in 2012, according to police data.
Other Rio Rancho stores targeted by shoplifters over the years include Kmart, Target, Hastings, Radio Shack, Big Lots, dollar stores and Petland (no longer open), according to police records.
More than $13 billion in merchandise nationally is stolen from retailers each year, according to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention or NASP, a non-profit organization that conducts research on shoplifting.
Store owners pass the cost from shoplifting to consumers, who pay more at the register to help retailers make up from losses due to theft.
A spokeswoman for Walmart, Kayla Whaling, said the store didn’t have figures on how much money it loses each year due to shoplifting.
It’s not just the Rio Rancho Walmart that leads in shoplifting — Bernalillo’s Walmart on NM 528 sees more shoplifting arrests than other stores in town, Bernalillo Police Chief Julian Gonzales said.
Neither police nor a Walmart spokeswoman could say whether the discount giant has high numbers of shoplifting report because it attracts more shoplifters, or because its security system is better than other stores’.
Employees with Walmart’s Rio Rancho asset protection department aren’t permitted to speak with the media.
Whaling said she wasn’t able to go into details as to what techniques the store uses to prevent shoplifting, but said the asset protection team (called “loss prevention” by other retailers) works closely with local police to help curtail crimes.
Rio Rancho Police Department Sgt. Nick Onken said the store’s in-depth camera security systems, its ability to read license plates and greeters stationed at the front door help Walmart combat shoplifting.
“Their system is excellent,” Onken said.
Cameras and lights in Walmart’s parking lots help deter theft, Whaling said.
But such measures fail to discourage some people from helping themselves to a “five- finger discount.” A lot of shoplifters are habitual offenders, Onken said.
“We see the same names time and time again,” Onken said.
Habitual shoplifters steal more than once a week, according to the NASP.
Those caught swiping goods without paying face a petty misdemeanor charge for stolen items under $250 in value; $251 to $500 is a misdemeanor; $500 and up is a felony.
Walmart will ban from the store those caught shoplifting. If an individual enters the store again after being banned, he/she can be charged with burglary just for entering the premises, Gonzales said.
Shoplifting isn’t uncommon: one in 11 people in the U.S. has shoplifted, according to the NASP.
Although the organization states that there’s no profile of a typical shoplifter, Onken said a “typical shoplifter” steals because “that’s one of their main means of bringing in sustenance or money.”
A look at RRPD reports shows most of what people steal are non-necessary items, such as makeup, video games and alcohol.
Gas stations and grocery stores — second- and third- highest in Rio Rancho shoplifting crimes — are often the targets of liquor theft. Sometimes the theft stems from addicts trying to feed their addiction, Gonzales said.
But, according to the NASP, most of the time people shoplift “not out of criminal intent, financial need or greed, but as a response to social and personal pressures in their life.”