Friday, February 21, 2014

Wal-Mart’s crime problem, Rolling Back Safety more than prices?

A new statistical study has come out indicating that there is a correlation between Wal-Mart and higher crime. Wal-Mart, of course, quickly came out with a statement refuting it, which seems to be how they handle all their problems; but a closer look often indicates that their critics often do a much better job presenting their data, and Wal-Marts denials often have little credibility.

An allegedly independent science web site, “,” also quickly came up with an article refuting it. However, ironically the critics of the study have ignored an enormous amount of data that might indicate that the problem is even worse and the authors of the study also repeated, without scrutiny, the claim that Wal-Mart saves people money as if it is a given fact.

Reclaim Democracy has compiled a list of close to two dozen studies about Wal-Mart and their impact on a variety of subjects, including a 2006 a statistical study based on incidents in 2004, about crime, "Is Wal-Mart Safe?" (PDF), that also indicates that Wal-Mart has more crime than other stores, and A false choice between prices and wages which indicates that their claims to save consumers money are exaggerated, at best; furthermore there are also other sources that have documented how Wal-Mart has pressured their suppliers to cut their expenses and it has come at the expense of quality which I explained further in Is Wal-Mart driving planned obsolescence? You don’t save money if you have to replace products three or four times as often as you used to thirty years ago. .

However the statistics that they cite could be helpful developing a good idea about how much of an impact on crime Wal-mart might have and a closer look at some of the other studies plus some of the actual reports that they decline to address could shed much more light on potential evidence that part of what causes the increase might be Wal-Marts policies. This is an excerpt from an article reporting on the study.

Controversial study explores ‘Walmart effect’ on crime rate

Retail behemoth Walmart may save shoppers money but the presence of the big-box store could be costing communities in terms of public safety, controversial new research suggests.

A study just published in the British Journal of Criminology says unprecedented declines in crime rates in the U.S. beginning in the 1990s were “stunted” in communities where Walmart expanded.

“Our data suggest that there may be something unique about Walmart that produces a relationship with crime,” the American authors wrote in an article titled Rolling Back Prices and Raising Crime Rates? .....

Hours after a press release went out announcing the study Friday, the website Science 2.0 posted a column blasting it as a “mish-mash of conjecture” and accusing the authors of creating a data basis “for their personal and cultural beliefs.”

But lead author and criminologist Scott Wolfe, of the University of South Carolina, dismissed the charge.

“No agenda. Just a terribly interesting research question,” Wolfe said in an interview, adding that he’s shopped at Walmart plenty of times.

While numerous studies have explored the so-called “Walmart effect” on jobs, poverty rates and retail prices, this was the first to examine possible impacts on crime, he said.

Wolfe and criminologist David Pyrooz, of Sam Houston State University, analyzed crime trends in more than 3,000 U.S. counties from the 1990s through the 2000s.

They found that, on average, communities with Walmarts had 17 more property crimes and two more violent crimes per 10,000 people than those communities without Walmarts.

The evidence suggests that Walmart growth “stunted what could have otherwise been greater drops in crime, particularly property crime,” the authors wrote.

Previous research offers possible theories as to why, they said.

Walmart tends to expand in communities with less social capital — and less likelihood of citizen opposition — and in areas with higher-than-average crime rates. The presence of Walmart may further diminish an area’s social capital by reducing the number of community leaders who had worked in thriving local businesses prior to the arrival of Walmart.

Also, the presence of a Walmart may “over-saturate” an area with low-wage jobs, minimizing access to middle-class jobs. ....

They also note that further research is needed to determine whether the “Walmart effect” is unique or whether other big-box retailers have similar effects on communities. Complete article

The following is the abstract from the study. Unfortunately the complete study is only available to subscribers for now.

Rolling Back Prices and Raising Crime Rates? The Walmart Effect on Crime in the United States

Wal-Mart is not an ordinary retail store—communities are impacted in significant ways by its entrance. Using various data sources and propensity-weighted multilevel modelling, this paper explores the ‘Wal-Mart effect’ on crime. Concentrating on the 1990s, results reveal that Wal-Mart is located in United States counties with higher crime rates, net of robust macro-level correlates of crime. Wal-Mart selected into counties primed for the 1990s crime decline, but, after accounting for endogeneity, growth of the company stunted crime declines when compared to matched counties. A Wal-Mart–crime relationship exists. If Wal-Mart did not build in a county, property crime rates fell by an additional 17 units per capita from the 1990s to the 2000s. A marginally statistically significant, yet stable, effect for violent crime was also observed, falling by two units per capita. These findings provide important theoretical implications regarding the influence of specific economic forces on aggregate crime trends and offer important implications for local governments faced with the prospect of Wal-Mart entering their communities. Complete article

There is much more previous research than they cite that could indicate why they might ahve higher crime rates including the 2006 study which probably should ahve been mentioned by them and the people reporting on it, and an enormous amount of raw data, although this isn't statistically representative, some of it could indicate what some of their problems might be and why it might lead to higher crime.

One of the things the 2006 study did was, in additions to citing their statistical work they compiled some responses from various police departments who had to deal with the crime, including some that came from interviews or from newspaper articles.

More recently a Pennsylvania police department reported that they also ahve problems with crime at Wal-Mart in, "Pa. Police Commissioner on Walmart shoppers: 'They're afraid.'" 10/18/2013 And back in 2008 Mesa Arizona went into more detail into their problems and found that wal-Mart exeutives were unwilling to respond to their requests even when they wouldn't cost much money as indicated in "Mesa Ariz. Police say Wal-Mart snubbed efforts to cut shoplifting." 06/27/2008 According to Mesa Police Chief George Gascon, "They are not seeming to want to work with us. They say the right things and never follow through."

This attitude is reflected on a large variety of subjects based on research from most authors who write about Wal-Mart and it is also clear with a large number of the stories where people have complaints. One major problem seems to be that most of the decisions are made in the corporate office and they don't seem to understand how they're implemented in the stores.

One problem, that should seem relatively simple, is the way they lay out many of their stores. Typical store that I went to thirty years ago always had it laid out so that when leaving you always had to go through the registers to get to the exit doors or you had to go past the service center if you didn't decide to buy things for one reason or another where you would be watched by security and any potential shoplifter would know it. Now that is no longer the case in most stores including most large Wal-Marts. A review of the crime reports listed under the author tag "Walmart Crime Watch" clearly indicates that they have a surprisingly large number of people walking out, or at least trying to, with entire carts full of merchandise or large appliances like TVs in plain sight. In many cases the loss prevention officers try to stop them but in many others they don't and in some cases the only reason they catch the shoplifters is because after they get away with entire carts full of stolen goods they do it again. Sometimes they even do it a third time at the same store, in a relatively short period of time, before getting caught.

This should be relatively simple for any retailer to understand and respond to. Another bigger problem with Wal-Mart almost certainly involves blow back from their oppressive work environment and there is an enormous amount of evidence to indicate that some high profile incidents are almost certainly a result of this. There are additional incidents that indicate that they also have problems with many disgruntled customers. The vast majority of workers consumers or other people with complaints about Wal-Mart obviously don't behave like some of the most extreme examples but their stories rarely ever make the news and their concerns ore often never addressed.

John Gillane is clearly one of the exceptions where he did go to extremes and he made it clear that it was in retaliation for what he considered abusive behavior by his superiors. According to an article he shot 3 managers to 'get even and embarrass Wal-Mart,' jurors told. and another article claims that he said “Was I disgruntled? —- yeah, I was disgruntled. I was going to take on Goliath.”

The following year at the same store in Reno Nevada another incident occured according to another article, He Means It: Disgruntled Walmart Employee Threatens To Shoot Boss, Plant Bomb. These aren't the only incidents where disgruntled workers have struck out in extreme manners; the following are some of the higher profile incidents and there are almost certainly many more less dramatic incidents for every one that is so extreme it gathers media attention.

Wal-Mart employee at Virginia Walmart distribution center opens fire, injuring manager and then killing himself 02/22/2012

Updated: Jacksonville Wal-Mart Employee Opens Fire Inside Store, Creating Chaos 04/24/2008

Walmart Employee Pinned to Ground by Coworkers After Coming to Work Drunk 12/28/2012

Police: Area woman threatened to shoot Amsterdam NY co-workers 05/06/2013

Walmart Employee Knocks Out Store Manager in Break Room Fistfight (Video) 07/17/2013

Suspect in Neenah Walmart shooting held on attempted homicide charge 08/19/2013

Montana Police Release Man Who Shot Co-Worker at Wal-Mart Due to State’s Sweeping “Castle Doctrine” Law 08/14/2009

Walmart Shooting Victim Still Critical, Suspect Charged With Attempted Capital Murder 02/03/2014

Conway Ark. Walmart Shooting Victim Tied to Previous Violent Attack 02/14/2014

Jealous Walmart employee shoots car of another employee in Florida 12/15/2013

In many cases when these incidents occur Wal-Mart comes up with a standard statement often saying that this is an "isolated" incident and isn't typical of business at Wal-Mart.

The problem is that these "isolated" incidents seem to happen a lot.

Furthermore if they were organized and a look at many of the similarities many of these stories have they might not appear quite so "isolated" and it might appear that they are semi-common responses for an oppressive work environment.

It isn't just employees who are often angry with Wal-Mart; they often have a lot of disgruntled customers that are fed up with what they perceive as bad products or service including a Punta Gorda Fla. man went on violent spree after being told he couldn't return his printer at a Charlotte County Walmart and a Laurel Md. Man who Pointed a BB Gun At Wal-Mart Worker Who Denied Requests To Return Items. In both these cases they reported them in a manner that implies it might be completely the fault of the suspects for overreacting and little or no effort was made to find out if they really did have legitimate complaints and over reacted to them.

However there are plenty of stories about how bad they treat their customers who don't over react and it would be understandable if some people were angry with how they were treated after hearing about incidents like a Newberry Walmart Employee who Crashes Customer's Car and How a Father Was Treated After Walmart Sold Him a Bad Batch of Gift Cards. These are just a small example of the higher profile incidents reported about bad service at Wal-Mart but the vast majority of minor incident almost never make the news so it would be much easier to find out about them by simply considering problems that some people might have had that they know on the grass roots level. I know of a few examples where people had to return things that were broken right out of the package and they had to go out of their way to get replacements but received no compensation for that; and there are many more where people were upset because their products only last a fraction of the time they used to.

Another obvious indicator that Wal-Mart is almost certainly a contributing factor when it comes to higher crime is the enormous amount of problems they have during Black Friday and the rest of the Christmas season as I indicated in Count down to Annual Black Friday Riots! and Why no discussion on preventing Black Friday Riots in the media? Many customers have found that Wal-Mart has often not been providing the items that they advertised and in at least one case Customers say Walmart sent cops to announce an out-of-stock Black Friday sale item instead of management.

Is it really any wonder why a lot of people are angry with Wal-Mart? They obtain their market share as a result of their political influence, not because customers are happy with them; then once they gain dominance in any given market they no longer have to worry about losing their customers since the small businesses that provide better service and more sincere advertising are gone.

Wal-Mart often uses their political advantage to get tax breaks that give them advantages over those smaller business then when they go out of business they no longer pay taxes and many towns ahve much less revenue, yet some of them use their [police and courts to prosecute some incredibly trivial crimes like when Walmart Presse Felony Charge In Oreo Theft and when police were called in to investigate the taking of an energy drink which turned out to be a mistake, McClellan: Crime and punishment at the Highland Walmart

The high number of bomb threats that Wal-Mart receives is also an indicator of how angry some people are with Wal-Mart. They get hundreds if not thousands of bomb threats every year and they are often investigated at tax payers expense, but they never seem to consider the obvious possibility that some of the people making them are doing so because they have grievances with Wal-Mart. Obviously this isn't the appropriate way to treat these grievances but as I explained in Who is threatening to bomb Wal-Mart and why? there is an enormous amount of evidence to indicate that it is worth considering anyway. Many of the people calling in the bomb threats are often employees of Wal-Mart and in some cases it is clear that it is because they're disgruntled, however, in most cases the reports don't even address potential motive and little or no effort is made to figure out if this is a pattern. There have also been many cases where customers have been disgruntled and responded with bomb threats and teenagers as well, who might be doing this for unrelated reasons, but some of them are almost certainly in response to Wal-Mart's bad policies.

This doesn't mean that Wal-Mart is the sole cause for higher crime and the Criminologists aren't necessarily implying that they are. This is probably especially true when it comes to violent crime. As I indicated in several posts including, "Child abuse and bullying link in study long over due," the leading cause of violence later in life is almost certainly early abuse and many of the people that go to extremes almost certainly have a record of that if they're typical of other people that have involved in violent crime and researched by various psychologists and Criminologists. This is also a method that is often used to teach children to be obedient to authority and Wal-Mart looks for that in their employees when they can get it. Understanding this can be very helpful when it comes to hiring and training people that will obey orders without question and convincing them that they shouldn't support unions to help them stand up for their rights.

A closer review of this subject and how many kids are subject to corporal punishment might also correlate with the states that have the highest violent crimes. I haven't reviewed the details of this but according to a study, Correlation Between High Rates of Corporal Punishment in Public Schools and Social Pathologies.: "Of the states with the ten highest murder rates in the United States, educators paddle children in eight of them; Of the states with the ten lowest murder rates in the nation, educators paddle children in one of them; Of the ten states with the highest percentage of the population in prison, educators paddle children in nine of them; and Of the ten states with the lowest percentage of the population in prison, educators do not paddle children in any of them." It might also partially explain why a large percentage of those involved in some of these crimes are minorities. According to an article about the Nineteen States That Allow Teachers to Spank Children African American males are much more likely to be subject to corporeal punishment. This may not seem related to Wal-Mart but it is an important contributing factor that needs to be addressed and it is related to how obedience to authority is taught.the reason for the reduction in violent crime over the last several decades is almost certainly related to the reduction in violent child rearing methods. these authoritarian methods haven't reduced at Wal-mart although they aren't the same as those used with children.

Stanley Milgram and Philip Zimbardo have both done research into obedience to authority and Philip Zimbardo wrote about how it impacts fast food workers or potentially Wal-Mart workers in the following excerpt.

In her book Making Fast Food: From the Frying Pan into the Fryer, the Canadian sociologist Ester Reiter concludes that obedience to authority is the most valued trait in fast-food workers. "The assembly-line process very deliberately tries to take away any thought or discretion from workers. They are appendages to the machine," she said in a recent interview. Retired FBI special agent Dan Jablonski, a private detective who investigated some of these hoaxes, said, "You and I can sit here and judge these people and say they were blooming idiots. But they aren't trained to use common sense. They are trained to say and think, 'Can I help you?' " "The Lucifer Effect" 2007 p.279-81

For more about Philip Zimbardo and his work for the Office of Naval Research and possible CIA connections see Philip Zimbardo, Lucifer Effect, Stanford Prison Experiment Philip Zimbardo, Lucifer Effect, Stanford Prison Experiment

Wal-Mart is well known for their union busting activities as Mother Jones reported in Up Against Wal-Mart and I pointed out in Union Busting adds to corrupt bureaucracy and incites crime. Barbara Ehrenreich and Bob Ortega both reported about how Wal-Mart interviews their potential employees and they ask questions where there is supposedly no right or wrong answers as part of the interview process; this is almost certainly part of their process screening people that they might consider less likely to develop independent thought and more likely to obey authority and reject unions.

Wal-Mart may not start the escalation of violence which often starts with early child abuse, escalates later in life with bullying and hazing but they maintain an environment where it continues to escalate. By not reporting on the research that could educate the public about how to avoid escalating violence the media may also be a contributing factor. If they had reported more on it the reduction of violence that has been occurring over the last thirty years might have been even greater.

Clearly there was much more information to support the conclusion that Wal-Mart activities contributes to crime than either the supporters of this study or the critics cite. One of the researchers that I cited in the previous blog about Child abuse leading to bullying and later violence is Murray Strauss who routinely cites many more studies that have been cross checked. These could be helpful in understanding this problem and it could have supported their findings as well even if it doesn't directly apply to Wal-Mart. The 2006 study also contributes further evidence so it is hard to imagine why they would have declined to acknowledge it. If there were dozens if not hundreds of studies on the subject then it would be understandable if someone like Murray Strauss might not be able to include them all but it seems to me that it would have been in the best interest of the researchers to use this to support their work.

Science2.0 doesn't acknowledge this study either nor do they seem to provide any further research to support their article criticizing the study in the following excerpts.

Criminologists Blame Wal-Mart For Crime

Wal-Mart caters to people with less money and there has long been a link between poverty and crime.

Criminologists have instead taken the additional step of implicating Wal-Mart in crime rates.

Communities across the United States saw decline in crime during the 1990s. Some said it was due to more abortions, others due to more police and a society less willing to coddle criminals. Scott Wolfe, assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of South Carolina, and David Pyrooz, assistant professor of criminal justice and criminology at Sam Houston State University, write in the British Journal of Criminology, says it had to do with Wal-Mart not being there.

Mainstream media go cuckoo for weak observational studies so this should be a big hit.

As humanities scholars often do, they were determined to create a data basis for their personal and cultural beliefs, and because Wal-Mart puts up stores where it will reach its market, it was simple to transpose the crime rate of poor neighborhoods onto the company.

"The crime decline was stunted in counties where Wal-Mart expanded in the 1990s," says Wolfe. "If the corporation built a new store, there were 17 additional property crimes and 2 additional violent crimes for every 10,000 persons in a county."

There you have it; correlation = causation. If there are terrorist attacks in Sochi during the Winter Olympics, we can blame them on the price of apples the same way.

They blame the "Wal-Mart effect", the belief that the company's influence retail prices creates crime, seemingly because people have more money to spend on other things. Yet they say they don't intend to criticize Wal-Mart. We are to believe a title like "Rolling back prices and raising crime rates" for an article was data-driven.

Even the phrase "less ability to prevent" oozes with agenda. Why would poor people protest Wal-Mart in the first place?

The paper is a mish-mash of conjecture. They can't blame Wal-Mart for higher crime so they instead imply that crime rates would have dropped more if Wal-Mart never existed. Their findings didn't show that Wal-Mart growth corresponded with increases in poverty, economic disadvantage or other factors associated with crime yet they still blame the company for crime. Complete article

It didn't take long for someone to add the following comment to this article.

This article about this study demonstrates both ignorance about the study's authors and the purpose and intention of the study itself. Pyrooz and Wolfe are criminal justice criminologists, not theoretical criminologists or sociologists who lean decidedly left as the author of this article is pointedly suggesting. Your phrase "oozes with agenda" is far more appropriate to you with your own obvious political agenda. And to Susan Nash who comments above, you are wrong. The article is not about crime in the store itself but rather the crime in the community where Wal-Marts are located.

The facts are the facts. Crime didn't drop as much in communities where Wal-Marts were located vs identical communities where Wal-Marts were not located.

Now we have people from both sides claiming that the other side "oozes with agenda," which isn't that uncommon, although I'm not sure it is the most scientific way of addressing disagreements. How should people know which side to trust? It seems to me that this claim could just as easily apply to "Wake Up Wal-Mart," who did the 2006 study, to Wal-Mart themselves, and presumably some people might think it might apply to me as well. It seems to me that they might be better off trusting the people that do the best job showing the work assuming that it holds up to scrutiny. After reading the 2006 study my impression is that even though "Wake Up Wal-Mart" is admittedly trying to convince Wal-Mart to change their business practices they did a much better job showing their work and it is much higher quality than the typical prepared statements that come from Wal-Mart. Furthermore if they did more to address the legitimate concerns of Wal-Mart workers that have been protesting peacefully for years now, then maybe more of these disgruntled workers would feel they have alternatives that are much more effective instead of going to extreme measures. These incidents endanger the workers but not the people in the corporate offices that make policy decisions that contribute to these problems. And these workers aren't compensated nearly as well even though they're the ones that take the real risks when these incidents happen.

Science2.0, on the other hand doesn't seem to provide any support for their claims; ironically they might even provide some support for the claims of the criminologist; or at least they might if missing information was considered. They admit that "there has long been a link between poverty and crime" but they decline to consider the studies that indicate that when Wal-mart comes to town it increases poverty. Some of these studies were listed at Reclaim Democracy yet the authors from Science2.0 declined to take this into consideration. If Wal-Mart leads to increasing poverty and increasing poverty leads to higher crime then Wal-Mart leads to higher crime. Not to complicated.

They are probably right about the claim that "Mainstream media go cuckoo for weak observational studies" but they hardly seemed to pay any attention to this study at all contrary to the authors claim that "this should be a big hit." This has been covered by many alternative media outlets but I haven't seen much coverage from the traditional media at all; and some of the media outlets that did cover it have cited the claim that Science 2.0 blasted the study without doing much to review it, and given more priority to Wal-Mart's response. The commercial media gets it's revenue from advertising and Wal-Mart provides an enormous amount of that which almost certainly has an impact on how they cover news about them. When they report on these violent incidents they are almost always brief and only at the local level and they ignore the vast majority of research critical of Wal-Mart, but sometimes cover "weak observational studies" that often support Wal-Mart. Even though I think this study could have cited much more material, or at least the media could have, the material they did cover seems far more rational than Wal-Mart or Science2.0. A relatively quick look at a few of the other articles on Science2.0 seems to imply that many of them seem to suit the interests of many corporations which might raise further doubts about their credibility especially if more knowledge about their funding was available.

Science2.0's claims don't seem much more credible than Wal-Mart's Response to Wake Up Wal-Mart’s Crime Study Release which also ignores an enormous amount of inconvenient data and they cite a supposedly "independent analysis discussing the defects in the UFC," but the link is dead so there is no way to review this analysis. I may have cited far more sources than many people would be able to keep track of but at least those that care to could take the time to review them and come to their own conclusions. If anyone is interested the following are some more articles on the subject and the way it is covered by mostly alternative media outlets. Some of them include a significant amount of feedback by some people that might have first hand knowledge with Wal-mart and it could inform people about how they're reacting to it.

Controversial study explores ‘Walmart effect’ on crime rate 02/07/2014

Controversial study explores ‘Walmart effect’ on crime rate 02/07/2014

Rolling back prices and crime rates study 02/07/2014

Rolling Back Prices And Crime Rates Study 02/07/2014

Walmart Linked To Higher Crime Rates: Study

Jezebel: Communities With More Walmart Stores Also Have More Crime 02/13/2014

Crooks and Liars: Rolling Back Safety? New Study Reveals Crime Rates Higher Near Walmart Stores

Alternet: When Walmart Comes to Town, So Does Crime

Rolling Back Safety? New Study Reveals Crime Rates Higher Near Walmart Stores f


Science Daily: Drop in crime rates are less where Wal-Mart builds, study shows

Nature World News: Crime Reduction of '90s Lessened by Wal-Mart's Presence

Consumer Affairs: Falling prices, rising crime?

No comments:

Post a Comment