On Thursday, almost a week after Carroll County Sheriff Jim DeWees harshly criticized Walmart security policies, company executives met with him and other county officials at an undisclosed location to discuss security improvements.
After the Eldersburg Walmart was robbed at gunpoint in the early morning hours of Friday, Aug. 9, DeWees had been highly critical of the retail chain’s security, saying they “breed” criminal activity — not just at Eldersburg but across its stores.
In recent weeks, Walmart has made national headlines after a mass shooting at a store in El Paso, Texas, and after a man arrived at a Missouri Walmart with a rifle and body armor, terrifying shoppers.
“It was a good quality collaboration meeting with not only local Walmart representatives, but Walmart representatives on the loss prevention and [public relations] side from their corporate level from New Jersey and Arkansas came in,” DeWees told the Times on Thursday. “They were addressing the concerns.”
Also present for the meeting were Mount Airy Police Chief Douglas Reitz and Westminster Police Maj. Pete D’Antuono, according to DeWees, while Carroll County Commissioner Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, called in by phone. Black Oak Associates, which owns and manages the Eldersburg Commons shopping center where that Walmart is located, was also represented at the meeting.
“It’s unfortunate that something negative has to happen to become a catalyst to getting corporate engaged,” Rothstein said in an interview. “Since it did happen, I do believe they are taking it seriously, and I am working forward to their commitment in working with our sheriff and our community in putting the right tools in place.”
Those tools include a better security presence inside the Eldersburg store, according to DeWees.
“We would help them and collaborate with them on a physical security level to make sure there was an obvious presence not only law enforcement, but personnel from Walmart that was there to deter crime,” he said. “If you are going to have security, make sure they are armed so they can protect themselves and protect others.”
They also discussed improving security camera quality and coverage inside and outside of stores, DeWees said, to better follow those who commit in-store thefts and then flee in vehicles — a change that also involves a commitment from Black Oak Associates.
“We’re looking at a couple of things right now, but we are talking about the camera system,” Olivia Brown, property manager with Black Oak Associates, said of actions the company is considering after the meeting. “I really appreciated the significant presence from both the Sheriff’s Office and Walmart, and we are really hoping to partner to make a Eldersburg Commons a safe and welcoming place for shopping.”
DeWees said that while he did not want to discuss all of the intended and immediate changes to come out of the meeting, the intention is for Walmart to develop a plan.
“They are going to go back to Walmart to their corporate offices and take our suggestions and come back soon with a strategic plan on not only the Eldersburg Walmart but the other Walmarts that service Carroll County, because the other chiefs have similar issues that we have,” he said. “We agreed that regionally, the regional management and loss prevention and folks and even on a national level, that we would meet quarterly to go over how our strategies are working down there.”
When asked for comment on the meeting and any potential changes, LeMia Jenkins, director of national media relations for Walmart, did not respond to questions about: security changes or when they might take place; which stores in Carroll County would be impacted by any changes; and if any stores outside of Carroll County would receive similar scrutiny.
“We had a productive meeting with the Sheriff’s office and other local officials and appreciate the opportunity for discussion,” she wrote in an email. "We will continue working to alleviate concerns and will remain a responsible and supportive member of this great community.”
While DeWees praised Walmart for its quick response to concerns in Carroll County stores, he also said that he expected Thursday’s meeting to be the first of many, laying the groundwork for ongoing cooperation and a long term solution.
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“I don’t want this to be a, ‘Hey, let’s work on it for a couple of months and make people satisfied,’ ” he said. “I am looking for a long-term commitment and a long-term strategic plan from Walmart, Black Oak and my office, so we can combat the issue.”