By Linda Dillman
Stores are filling up with holiday gifts and shoplifters are filling up as well, resulting in Canal Winchester area law enforcement spending time responding to thefts at superstores throughout the area.
“I was looking through crime reports for Fairfield County,” said Canal Winchester City Councilman Pat Lynch at a recent council meeting. “There seems to be an unusual amount of stops at Walmart. It seems like it was every day or every other day.”
Lynch asked Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Jesse Hendershot if deputies are spending so much of their time patrolling Walmart, would it make sense for the store to contract for their own special duty officer.
“So it doesn’t take away time from you guys,” said Lynch, “because if there is an altercation, a trained officer on site can call down to Fairfield County and stop pulling you guys away from what you should be doing for the city. It seems like we’re putting a lot of effort towards one egg.”
Canal Winchester contracts with the county sheriff’s department for more than a million dollars a year for law enforcement services for the city and, in October, approved adding another deputy to the agreement.
Canal Winchester Schools also contract for a school resource officer. Hendershot said the choice to hire a special duty deputy, in addition to their loss prevention staff, is up to Walmart, but is something his department would love to see happen.
Lynch thinks citizens would love to see it happen so deputies are not taken away from their duties in the community.
If a summons is issued, deputies spend about 45 minutes to an hour on scene. If a transport is necessary, it takes an hour to an hour and a half. Add on another 30 minutes at the end of a call to complete a report.
Hendershot said Franklin County deputies and Madison Township Police also respond when Fairfield County deputies issues with multiple suspects or other priority calls that require multiple law enforcement to respond.
Councilman Will Bennett noted Mayor Mike Ebert had conversations with Walmart and a couple other large stores a year or so ago who experience the same problems with thefts.
“Theft calls are the most calls we get,” said Hendershot. “When loss prevention notices a crime, they call us. Typically we take a report and release them (suspect) on a summons to show up for Mayor’s Court, but there are other circumstances that we may need to arrest them, like if they have committed the same crime there before or have trespassed already.”
Hendershot said his officers also receive other calls for service at Walmart, including domestics, drug related calls, vandalisms and lockouts. However, 25 to 50 percent of the calls are theft related with many having multiple suspects.
According to Hendershot, local law enforcement received 458 calls for service at Walmart so far this year, with 200 of them regarding theft.
“I would venture to guess we charged way more than 200 individuals though, because many of the calls have multiple suspects stealing,” he said. “(There were) 184 total calls at Meijer’s, with around 60 of those being theft calls. We have seen an increase in (overall) calls this year probably do to the number of people who are financially hurting because of the shut down earlier in the year and the number of people who have had to quit their jobs to stay home with their kids.”
Hendershot said he can reach out to other agencies to see how they handle calls like those coming from stores such as Walmart and Meijer. He said Columbus does not respond to theft calls unless it is over $3,000.
“Is it something we can legislate by basically creating a cap,” asked Lynch. “I’m just trying to think of solutions.”
Hendershot said his deputies adopted the philosophy that individuals caught stealing will automatically be sentenced or receive time for their actions, so there are not a lot of repeat offenders.
“They’ll come one time, tell their friends, and they won’t come back,” said Hendershot. “I feel like if we don’t respond and we don’t take these calls seriously, then it would get even worse. It is important to keep on top of these crimes. We don’t want the criminal element coming into Canal Winchester thinking they can get away with crime. You see what’s going on in many cities and we do not want that. People want to feel safe going to the store.”