Low cost stores in a neighborhood invariably lead to higher crime rates, a recent study in The British Journal of Criminology, suggests.
The Huffington Post reported on how lead author Scott Wolfe, assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of South Carolina, looked at counties in the US where Walmart expanded compared to counties where the megastore did not expand its presence.
“The crime decline was stunted in counties where Walmart expanded in the 1990s,” Wolfe said in a press release. “If the corporation built a new store, there were 17 additional property crimes and 2 additional violent crimes for every 10,000 persons in a county.”
The detailed study considered annual crime rates in 3,109 U.S. counties between 1991 and 2009. It was focused on the 1990s – a decade when crime rates fell nationwide and Walmart experienced exponential growth.
“The study found that the crime reduction was slowed in communities where Walmart expanded, a trend that continued in the 2000s,” stated the Huffington Post.
Researchers said they were able to closely measure Walmart’s influence on a neighborhood because the counties were matched in terms of poverty, unemployment, immigration, population structure and turnover of housing.
David Pyrooz, assistant professor of criminal justice and criminology at Sam Houston State University in Texas, who is a co-author of the study, said the rise in crime likely has more to do with where Walmart is allowed to build.
“Counties with more social capital — citizens able and willing to speak up about the best interests of the community — tend to have lower crime rates,” Pyrooz said in a press release. “Counties with more crime may have less social capital and, therefore, less ability to prevent Walmart from building.”
Dianna Gee, a spokeswoman for Walmart, disputed the study’s findings. In a statement, she described the research as a “flawed study that relies on outdated information and fails to present the facts about Walmart’s positive impact on communities,”
Gee claimed the presence of a Walmart has significant benefit to consumers, homeowners, and taxpayers, allowing families to save money for public safety improvements.
She said any rise in crime could have to do with the company’s vigilance in rooting out shoplifting.
Walmarts in Texas have been the scene of some high profile crimes. In January, 2014, an armed suspect stormed a Walmart in Harris County and terrorized employees. Most of the crimes seen in the vicinity of box stores are misdemeanors such as assaults and theft offenses.