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Advocate file photo by STACY GILL -- Zachary Police Chief David McDavid

STACY GILL

The Walmart in Zachary has become a magnet for shoplifters, and the thieves are stealing more than just merchandise. They're also taking the time of police officers who must drop everything to take yet another shoplifting report at the department store on Main Street.

About half the theft incidents — 166 out of 336 — handled by Zachary police from January to June have been at Walmart, Police Chief David McDavid told city council members at their Tuesday meeting.

“We’re basically Walmart’s police department,” the chief said.

The problem has gotten much worse in the past couple of years, McDavid said, and the thieves are beginning to target Home Depot, too. He said most of the perpetrators are not from Zachary, but from Baton Rouge or surrounding parishes.

“Men and women are not burglarizing houses anymore. They’re hitting retail,” McDavid said, noting that it’s often difficult to make arrests in shoplifting cases.

The police department maintained an office and a security detail inside Walmart until about 10 years ago, and McDavid said it was a good crime deterrent. Still, the arrangement was put to a stop by the store’s management. McDavid, who was not chief at the time, said he’s not sure why.

He asked the council to help him contact store management to impress upon them that solutions must be found quickly.

Walmart National Media Relations Director Ragan Dickens said on Wednesday that the Zachary store has multiple programs in place to address shoplifting, including security cameras, associates at the doors checking receipts, asset protection associates working the floor, and point-of-sale activation for more-expensive items like tablet computers, which means they will work only if properly purchased.

The Restorative Justice Program is also in place at the location, which offers first-time offenders an electronic education program instead of pressing charges. Dickens said the implementation of this option has reduced calls to law enforcement across the country by 35 percent.

In other city council matters Tuesday, Paul Sawyer, an aide to U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, reported that progress is being made on the long-awaited Comite River diversion canal.

“I think it’s a popular concept that the Comite River diversion canal is dead and will never see the light of day,” Sawyer said. But “it’s probably the best time that this project has ever seen.”

Sawyer said money is available to put toward the critical first step of building the canal — a “functional element” between the Mississippi River and the Baton Rouge Bayou — but more must be secured to complete the project.

“We have enough money to get the project started, and we have enough money to finish that first element,” Sawyer said. “Once we get past that hurdle ... the rest of the project is, relatively speaking, digging a ditch.”

In other business, the council:

  • Introduced an ordinance that would require horse owners to have at least one acre of land for the first horse and a half acre for each additional horse. The proposal also would require barns or other structures where horses are kept to be 170 feet from homes. Pens, barns, corrals and other enclosures would be required to be at least 100 square feet.
  • Renewed a contract with Professional Engineering Consultants, a Baton Rouge firm, for debris management and monitoring services, which FEMA requires of municipalities. “PEC has done this for years,” but the contract has to be renewed annually, Mayor David Amrhein said.
  • Voted to recommend a salary increase for the secretary of the Zachary Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board, which has final say on the matter.

Editor's Note:  This story was modified on July 12 to include comments from Walmart National Media Relations Director Ragan Dickens and also to delete an estimate about the number of shoplifting calls to the store each day.