THE GOOD – We have many GOOD businesses in Lakewood, such as Safeway, Saar’s Market, Grocery Outlet, Paldo Plaza and the former K-Mart.
THE BAD – Some customers, who patronize our GOOD businesses, are THE BAD because of their criminal behavior involving stealing shopping carts.
If you are caught shoplifting a 45 cent pack of Wrigley’s Big Red gum, Lakewood Police can arrest you and book you into the Pierce County Jail or release you with a Criminal Arrest Citation commanding you to appear in court.
If a customer steals a shopping cart worth $300, no one does anything about the crime. If we follow the no-arrest-mentality for stealing a shopping cart, it makes as much sense that I should be able to steal a boat load of Jack Daniels without any repercussions as long as my theft does not exceed the price of a $300 shopping cart.
Economically it makes no difference if it is a $300 shopping cart or $300 worth of Jack Daniels. THE BAD hurts the honest customers with their thefts by driving prices we pay to a higher level. Yes, you and I have to pay for those stolen shopping carts as a part of the victim business overhead.
THE UGLY – Where do those stolen shopping carts end up? It would not be as problematic if a customer took a single cart on a round trip from store to home and from home back to the store. The customer might even ask for written permission to do so from the retailer.
THE BAD are generally too inconsiderate, lazy or crazy to possess enough intelligence to do the right thing. They dump carts at our city bus stops and in our neighborhoods and then go back to steal more carts.
My photo slide show serves as an example of the slum look the shopping cart theft / dumping problem creates in our city. This particular dumping ground is located in the right-of-way at the intersection of Lakeview Avenue SW and Pacific Street SW. If you look around, you will see this scene repeated throughout our city.
Have you ever wondered why this phenomenon occurs? Have you ever said to yourself, “there ought to be a law against stealing shopping carts?”
Firstly, we have a long standing law commonly referred to as Theft III under RCW 9A.56.050. Additionally we have had a law for decades that specifically covers shopping cart theft under RCW 9A.56.270.
Even with two laws on the books, no one does anything about this crime because the retailers are afraid to offend anyone by confronting them about the theft. The retailers refuse to cooperate with law enforcement.
On a practical level, an uncooperative business is not much different from those cases where a police officer knows a crime has been committed by a particular suspect, but cannot identify a victim. Following that logic, the situation is treated like there is no crime. Unless business owners change their thinking, it is not reasonable to expect Lakewood Police to take any action.
With my background in crime prevention, I can assure you that slum conditions breed crime. The message promoted by slum conditions is “No one is effectively in charge and no one cares about the neighborhood or city.”
There are potential solutions to the shopping cart problem. We can communicate with local retail businesses to inform them that we do not appreciate their facilitating the theft of grocery carts with their do nothing attitude and do nothing policy. Once the retailers become willing victims, Lakewood Police can start enforcing the laws related to this crime.
Because this problem has gone on for decades, I think it reasonable to begin with soft enforcement. Store owners and Lakewood Police would merely contact the shopping cart thieves to issue an educational warning. The criminal would not be arrested if they returned the cart along with a promise to not steal any more carts.
Once the honeymoon period is over, Lakewood Police could start arresting shopping cart thieves. They could set the tone for zero tolerance on crime by “carting” the thieves down to Pierce County Jail. It would not take long for shopping cart criminals to learn that shopping cart crime does not pay in Lakewood.
Based on my law enforcement experience, a bonus for Lakewood Police in contacting these thieves would be the clearance of a good number of outstanding warrants. It is also an additional opportunity to remove illegal weapons and drugs from our city.
Lakewood Police can earn another crime reduction statistic when they become responsible for the eradication of shopping cart thefts.
Another solution is to ask our Lakewood City Council to study the problem and develop their own well reasoned solution.
Lakewood City Shops staff could pick up the carts from the right-of-way during their normal daily travels and return them to the offending business. Our city could charge the business a fee of $25 for each shopping cart returned. $25 for a $300 shopping cart is economically viable for the business owner. We could affectionally call this our Buggy Bounty Program.
While shopping cart thefts are not the crime of the century, it is a quality of life crime, especially if it is your neighborhood that is being victimized as a dumping ground.
With the Buggy Bounty Program in place, the business would either take steps to stop the thefts or the city would enjoy another revenue source. Either way, the appearance of our city would be greatly improved.