Dec. 22 (UPI) -- Retailer Walmart is ending an alternative to prosecution for shoplifting, the company said, that could put a larger burden on local police forces.
The company is suspending its relationship with two companies offering anti-shoplifting educational programs. The programs, provided by Utah-based Corrective Education Co. and Turning Point Justice, have been part of an in-house punishment in which a first-time Walmart shoplifter could avoid criminal prosecution. The suspect could pay a fee of $400 or $500, and take an online course on retail theft after watching an anti-theft video, in exchange for avoiding police and court involvement.
Most of the funds derived from the policy were directed to the two companies administering the programs.
Corrective Education and Turning Point have had similar programs involving Macy's, Bloomingdale's, Goodwill Industries and Burlington Coat Factory.
The policy removed a large burden from local police forces. A 2016 investigation indicated that in Tampa, for example, police were called to local Walmart stores 16,800 times in one year, or two calls per hour per day. After the Walmart program began, calls to one Tampa-area store fell from 486 to 294 over a four-month period.
The Walmart program was slowly suspended across its U.S. stores after local officials questioned the legality of demanding money in exchange for freedom from criminal prosecution. A California court ruled earlier this year that Corrective Education's program violates state extortion laws.
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera sued Corrective Education after a wheelchair-bound Goodwill Industries customer told him she inadvertently left a store without paying for a $2 purse. She was told that a security guard threatened her with jail unless she paid $500 for the educational program. After a court dismissed her claim of abusive debt collection, Herrera sued again, charging Corrective Education with extortion and false imprisonment.
California Superior Court Judge Harold Kahn wrote in an August ruling that only a diversion program "under the aegis of prosecution authorities" can charge a fee under state law.