How Walmart has affected Carpentersville crime, economy

The new Walmart Supercenter in Carpentersville was bustling with activity from the moment it opened on a hazy Wednesday morning last summer.

The community welcomed the world's largest retailer to town with nothing short of a full-blown celebration, complete with balloon columns lining the aisles and cheerleaders greeting eager customers at the door.

The same day, village police were called to the store at 7:31 p.m. when a security officer caught a juvenile boy trying to steal a cellphone charger. Officers would respond to four more retail thefts there within its first week.

Carpentersville officials say the long-awaited Walmart has lived up to the hype since its grand opening June 22, 2016. The $30 million store at 365 Lake Marian Road already has exceeded sales tax revenue projections and spurred business development on the village's east side.

But records show that economic success is juxtaposed with hundreds of calls for service - and a stark increase in shoplifting cases - handled by Carpentersville police at the store over the past year.

Crime numbers

From its opening day to June 30, 2017, officers responded to 445 calls for service at Walmart, 166 of which resulted in arrests, according to records obtained by the Daily Herald. That means police were called to the store an average 1.2 times per day in its first year.

Retail thefts, the store's most frequently reported crime, were responsible for 148 of those calls, records show. Walmart shoplifting cases made up roughly 43 percent of 344 retail thefts villagewide in that same time frame.

By comparison, Carpentersville received only 159 total calls for retail theft in 2015. The year before, the number was at 106.

Chief Michael Kilbourne says the additional calls have not negatively affected police services. Officers have spent more time patrolling the area, as they would with any new large business, he said, but the uptick in calls has not necessitated adding any positions. The village has employed 59 full-time sworn officers since before Walmart opened.

"A year ago, that location was an empty field. It's now a 24-hour Walmart. With that comes the availability for people to steal things," he said. "I do not think that the level of shoplifting is uncharacteristic for a retail operation of that size. ... It's what we expected."

Some Walmart shoplifters were caught under-ringing their merchandise at the self-checkout line. Others tried concealing items under their clothes or in large purses. One man tried walking out of the store without paying for the $678 TV he was carrying.

Other crimes reported at Walmart include fraud, battery, drug possession and threats.

Ragan Dickens, director of national media relations for Walmart, said high crime and shoplifting rates are common in Walmart stores nationwide. Each location has a variety of measures in place to address the problem, such as cameras and asset protection employees, and store managers work closely with local authorities.

"They're good neighbors. We're happy with the relationship," Kilbourne said. "We do not feel they are a drain on our resources."

Economic growth

Despite an increase in police activity, Village Manager Mark Rooney said Carpentersville has been reaping the benefits of its new superstore.

Walmart announced in 2012 its plans to close an East Dundee store and build the Carpentersville supercenter less than three miles away, prompting a lengthy legal battle between the company and the two villages. Walmart is expected to receive $4.3 million in tax increment financing funds ­- property taxes above a certain point in the area that would have gone to local governments - for the new store.

East Dundee Chief Terry Mee said police have noticed a drop in overall shoplifting cases since the village's largest retailer closed. Police reported 45 total retail thefts, 78 percent of which were at Walmart, in 2015, he said. In the year after the store closed, there were only three shoplifting calls.

But the store's relocation also resulted in an annual loss of $850,000 in sales tax dollars for East Dundee, village leaders say.

Though he declined to disclose specific sales numbers, Rooney said the new Carpentersville store has generated more sales tax revenue than East Dundee reported losing.

"Anytime you improve the sales tax revenue stream, it takes a lot of pressure off the property tax (burden) and reliance on state of Illinois income tax," Rooney said. "(Walmart) brings a lot of relief."

Many nearby business owners have reported an increase in customers since Walmart opened, said Patrick Burke, Carpentersville's economic development director.

Already, the supercenter has significantly increased traffic and economic interest on the village's east side, he said. Plans are moving forward for constructing a new five-tenant building and an O'Reilly Auto Parts on the store's outlots.

"They've been a great addition to the business community. They've spurred economic activity on Route 25," Burke said. "It's really been the largest economic development project that we've seen in decades."

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