A good PR person knows that a good time to reveal bad or unflattering news is late on Friday or, even better, when everyone’s attention is on something else. Like holiday shopping.
In early December Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) cut its ties to two companies that offered people caught shoplifting in the company’s stores with the choice of paying hundreds of dollars to wipe the incident from their records or to be referred to the criminal justice system.
The Utah-based companies, Corrective Education Co. (CEC) and Turning Point Justice, positioned themselves as alternatives to a criminal justice system that is spread too thin to deal with minor offenses like shoplifting. The programs also claim they make offenders accountable without leaving a criminal conviction on their record.
In August a California court ruled that CEC’s program violated state extortion laws. The Wall Street Journal reported on how CEC worked:
Shoplifting suspects at stores that use Corrective Education are shown a video and given 72 hours to decide whether to enter the program. The video describes a six-to-eight-hour online course that promises to explain “why you make decisions that are harmful or illegal” and teach “life skills.”
If a suspect declines to pay for the program—$400 up front or $500 later—the retailer may choose to pursue “other legal rights to seek restitution and resolve this crime,” the video states.
Walmart vice-president of asset protection and safety, Joe Schrauder, told the Wall Street Journal that the programs were “not welcome everywhere.” Walmart was using the program in 2,000 of its 4,700 U.S. stores, and Schrauder attributed a 30% drop in shoplifting in 2016 and a 15% drop in 2017 as a result.
Walmart initiated the program as a way to reduce the number of calls it made on local law enforcement to handle minor offenses like shoplifting. The company has taken plenty of criticism over the years for the strain it puts on local police and had intended the two shoplifting programs to reduce that strain.