Walmart drops shoplifting-prevention program criticized by attorney general

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A shoplifting-prevention program that had been implemented by Walmart at 36 Indiana locations—including Beech Grove, Kokomo and Lafayette—has been voluntarily discontinued by the company after Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill issued a critical opinion.

Hill’s office began its review of the Salt Lake City-based Corrective Education Co., or CEC, program after a request for a legal opinion by Tippecanoe County Prosecuting Attorney Pat Harrington.

Harrington reported his concerns that the CEC agreements employed by Walmart were “private” agreements to relinquish law-enforcement action, which Harrington believed to be inappropriate and contrary to law.

Under the CEC program, eligible shoplifting suspects could watch a four-minute CEC video and either enter into a contract with CEC to pay $400 and complete an “education course” via a six-hour online program or face arrest by local law enforcement.

In Indiana in 2017, 1,225 suspects were determined not to be eligible for the program, 222 were deemed eligible and 213 of those entered the program.

“To facilitate compliance with the program, a ‘personal coach,’ who is actually a CEC employee trained in debt collection and acting as such, is assigned to the suspect,” according to Hill’s opinion.

Ordinances have been passed in cities including Kokomo and Beech Grove in which stores such as Walmart can be declared “public nuisances” and fined for calling police too often.

Hill’s opinion, which included the cooperation of CEC and Walmart officials, determined that the retailer was offering to forgo contacting the police in exchange for suspects' agreeing to enter their program.

“The privatized, non-adjudicative program sold to Walmart fails under the weight of a number of legal and ethical objections that have been raised,” Hill’s opinion concluded. “To Walmart’s considerable credit, this program has been disengaged statewide.”

Indiana law is clear on the manner and authority in which retailers may lawfully detain shoplifting suspects and law enforcement’s role in that process, a Tuesday release from Hill’s office stated.

In recent years, Walmart has found itself in hot water over its treatment of suspected shoplifting suspects.

Last September, District Court for the Southern District of Indiana Chief Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson ruled Walmart must face a civil assault lawsuit filed after a worker at its Franklin store angrily pointed his finger in the face of a 79-year-old customer detained over suspected shoplifting. The claims against Walmart were settled in February, according to court records.

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