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West St. Paul is seeing major reductions in shoplifting thanks to a new approach from the police department. The new approach has dropped year-to-date shoplifting cases from 334 in 2021 to 116 in 2022. The heavy retail district along Robert Street has been notorious for shoplifting, with big retailers like Walmart the primary targets.
2021 saw 534 total shoplifting cases in West St. Paul, the majority happening at just one store: Walmart.
West St. Paul Police Chief Brian Sturgeon worked with stores to implement environmental changes to reduce theft, but that wasn’t getting the necessary results. So Sturgeon made a more direct case.
Sturgeon issued a special order last October directing stores with their own security to do more of the work of confronting potential thieves.
“We were spending a lot of time helping store security do their job, in my view, and had to take into consideration the other needs of the community,” Sturgeon said.
The directive noted the police department would not respond to shoplifting calls unless specific criteria were met—a person was violent or armed, the estimated value exceeded $500, the person was a repeat offender, or the person physically resisted store employees. The directive only applies to stores with their own security—currently Walmart, Menards, Target, Burlington Coat Factory, and Cub Foods. Sturgeon made clear the department would be there for other stores that don’t have their own security.
It sent the message that stores were taking resources away from the community and needed to do more of the prevention work themselves. The police department then worked with stores to implement more proactive measures such as confronting people who are seen pocketing items.
“I think the biggest thing we saw was the prevention techniques that we worked with these retailers on, which decreased their numbers dramatically and decreased shoplifting overall,” Sturgeon said.
For some of the smaller retailers, making simple environmental design changes can have a big impact. It’s things like putting items behind the counter or in a case and not having small, grabbable items near the door. Diversion programs are another approach to reduce repeat offenders.
It’s been a process of education, which is also something Sturgeon has to do with the community.
“Every year there are online platforms that rate West St. Paul as the most dangerous city in the state of Minnesota,” Sturgeon said. “No, it’s not the most dangerous city in the state of Minnesota.”
Those ratings happen because the FBI puts shoplifting in the same category as violent crimes like murder and rape. So if you have a lot of shoplifting, like West St. Paul does, it’s going to look more dangerous than it really is. Those ratings are a pet peeve of Sturgeon’s, and this effort will hopefully reduce that perception problem.
“It appears to be a huge success, but I want to continue to look at the numbers over time,” Sturgeon said. “With eight months of data, it looks promising.”
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