SAN ANTONIO -- Shoplifting costs companies billions and local police department precious time.
Now, the world's biggest retailer, Walmart, is tackling the problem with an experiment: giving first-time offenders a chance to avoid the legal justice system with a program called Restorative Justice.
It's already making a big impact in San Antonio.
Police are used to hearing the call "Shoplifting at Walmart." It's a call that they answer more than 100 times a day across the Alamo City, tying up police officers’ time and potentially ruining someone's life.
"That kind of thing follows you around for the rest of your life. It goes on your permanent record if you have an arrest for shoplifting," said David Ferguson, the New Braunfels Police Department communications coordinator.
On one night, police arrested a woman caught on camera stuffing nearly $100 worth of make up in her purse.
If this goes on her criminal record, it could disqualify the woman from getting a job, getting a loan, or perhaps even renting an apartment.
But now Walmart is taking justice into its own hands. It's offering first time offenders a choice: either they call the police or you take an online educational program called Restorative Justice.
The eight-hour online program is currently being offered at one-third of Walmart stores nationwide.
"The goal of Restorative Justice is to give first-time offenders a second chance so they make better choices. It is voluntary and it prevents them from having to go through the criminal justice program," said Anne Hatfield, director of communications for Walmart.
The interactive educational program is meant to help shoplifters understand why they committed the crime, how someone was harmed, and how to make amends.
It also educates people on how to reduce debt and create a budget.
“Research shows that Restorative Justice is more effective than legal justice. Legal justice focuses on three questions: What law was broken? Who broke the law? And how should they be punished? Restorative justice focuses on three different questions: Who was harmed? What needs to be done to repair the harm? And who's accountable, who's responsible for that repair?" said Dr. Michael Gilbert, director of the UTSA Office of Community and Restorative Justice.
Dr. Gilbert also serves as the executive director of National Association of Community and Restorative Justice.
"Restorative Justice is much more constructive. Those alternatives are likely to produce someone who is less likely to do it again. They're likely to produce someone who is not going to create more victims and likely to reduce the cost to taxpayers because they won't be involved in the justice system,” Dr. Gilbert said. “Justice does not mean punishment. Justice does not mean a legal process. Justice means we are holding people accountable for their actions. We just have to be willing to open our eyes and see that these are reasonable, appropriate and effective approaches.”
Restorative Justice is offered in a third of Walmart stores.
"On the average we're seeing a drop in calls to police 35 percent nationwide," said Hatfield of the areas where Walmart is offering the Restorative Justice course.
Records KENS 5 obtained from local police departments show that, since the program was rolled out in spring and summer, the impact has been dramatic.
Police calls for shoplifting dropped from 33 percent at the Austin Highway Walmart and dropped 49 percent at the SE Loop 410 store. The numbers dropped 56 percent at the retail giant at 8923 West Military and dropped a whopping 72 percent at the Walmart on DeZavala.
Instead of police showing up every other day, shoplifting arrests have dropped here to once a week.
"Our department and departments across the country are in favor of programs that are like this," Ferguson said.
In New Braunfels, police have seen calls drop 36 percent since that Walmart began offering the Restorative Justice program.
"We're able get out and handle things, whether it's a traffic accident or more major crimes instead of having to deal with shoplifting calls, in particular to Walmart," Ferguson said.
Restorative Justice is putting a stop to shoplifting while keeping more police on the streets.
Walmart is hoping this big bet pays off for everyone.
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