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Route 12A big box store gives preferred parking to police

  • Photographed on Jan. 3, 2020, the Walmart store along Route 12A in West Lebanon, N.H., has dedicated two prime parking spots near its front entrance for use by police officers. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com Valley News — Geoff Hansen

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/4/2020 10:49:39 PM
Modified: 1/4/2020 10:49:12 PM

WEST LEBANON — The Walmart store along Route 12A has dedicated two prime parking spots near its front entrance for use by police officers as part of a national effort by the massive retailer to strengthen ties with law enforcement.

But it is also highlighting the fact that the West Lebanon store generates more police calls than any other business in the city, ranging from help searching for shoplifters to responding to dogs locked in hot cars.

On Nov. 17, for instance, Lebanon police responded to the store after an unidentified man was suspected of shoplifting over $870 worth of merchandise, according to a news release from the department. Police even posted two photos from Walmart surveillance cameras asking for the public’s help in identifying him.

Walmart long has been criticized for its heavy reliance on local police around the country.

Bloomberg reported on the issue in 2016, placing the blame on extreme cost-cutting measures in the early 2000s that removed several shoplifting deterrents at Walmart stores.

Company CEO Doug McMillon tried to combat the rise in crime after he was hired in 2014, but local law enforcement agencies were still frustrated by a lack of progress in 2016, Bloomberg reported.

The two parking spots for police in West Lebanon, which replace normal public parking spaces, were installed outside the Interchange Drive store within the last few months. They include a large blue light on top of a sign that reads “This space reserved for our law enforcement partners” and are next to handicapped spaces near the store.

Walmart spokeswoman Tara Aston, said the chain plans to install similar parking spots at each of its stores across the country by the end of this month.

She said the spaces are meant to be used by on and off-duty officers alike, meaning even police who are in their personal vehicles, shopping for themselves, can park there.

Similar parking spaces have been dedicated for police at the Upper Valley’s other Walmart locations in Claremont and Woodsville.

“We just wanted to offer them the convenience and show them that we appreciate them for the work they do,” Aston said.

She added that Walmart has a longstanding relationship with local police departments and that the idea for the spaces was borne from a desire to strengthen that relationship.

Aston said the chain also hopes the new spaces will provide an alternative parking situation, so officers don’t have to park in fire lanes when they respond to calls from the store.

Police in Lebanon responded to 251 calls from the West Lebanon Walmart in 2019, which Lebanon Police Chief Richard Mello said was typical for an average year. It included 14 calls for hit-and-runs in the parking lot, 15 calls of a suspicious car, four calls about child abuse or neglect, one call about a death, and 48 calls about shoplifting attempts.

“We respond to Walmart more frequently than other businesses on the 12A corridor,” Mello said in an email Friday.

Mello said Lebanon responded to 455 calls from the nonprofit Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, though they include requests from other law enforcement agencies, including police in Vermont, due to jurisdictional issues involving a patient.

The law enforcement spots are particularly beneficial during the busy holiday season when the rest of the lot is full or packed with shoppers Mello said, adding “it’s a nice gesture from Walmart.”

In Claremont, police in 2019 received 521 calls detailing incidents at or near the local Walmart off Washington Street. Those calls included a fight on a nearby street, shoplifting incidents, abandoned motor vehicles, and lost property.

Claremont Police Chief Mark Chase also said he’s appreciative of the dedicated parking spaces, but that if there’s an emergency or “active threat” his officers will likely still park close to the incident — even if that means parking in the fire lane — so they can respond quickly.

Still, some shoppers are skeptical about the spaces.

“I don’t think it’s right,” said Sharon resident Julie Kelly, who was shopping at the Lebanon location Thursday, and said the spots should be reserved for handicapped parking.

Springfield, NH. resident Niel Weathers feels similarly, saying the spaces should be made into handicapped spots. He motioned to the fire lane outside of the Lebanon store, adding, “(Police) already have a place to park in an emergency.”

Others, like White River Junction resident Nancy Dumont, said spaces are beneficial in case of emergencies and shoplifting incidents.

“They should be able to get there quickly…. it’s either that or they have to double park.”

Anna Merriman can be reached at amerriman@vnews.com or 603-727-3216




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