Lafayette has seen a roughly 356 percent increase in shoplifting cases over the last five years, according to a 2018 municipal court report unveiled earlier this week.
There were 260 shoplifting cases in the city throughout 2017, the report indicates, up from just 57 in 2013. Of last year's shoplifting cases, 38 involved juveniles.
The cases are occurring almost exclusively at the city's Wal-Mart Supercenter, located at 745 U.S. 287, say officials who indicate that the crimes have eaten away almost $1 million from the local store's profits in years past.
In this year's report, "the assaults, harassments, thefts — the thing that really jumps out is the shoplifting, it's just epidemic," Lafayette Municipal Judge Roger Buchholz told City Council earlier this week, "and it's almost exclusively at Wal-Mart.
"It's just pretty shocking the number of shoplifting," he added. "Sometimes our ordinance docket is 90 percent shoplifting."
Lafayette Police Chief Rick Bashor suggested that the numbers delineated in this year's report are likely due to the store's hiring of a loss prevention officer — an employee typically hired as part of the security team at a retailer or other company.
About two years ago, "Wal-Mart hired a loss prevention officer that became very aggressive and very good at her job and we've seen these (numbers) go up," Bashor said. "Prior to this, (Wal-Mart was) kind of in flux with what they had for loss prevention; they weren't doing it on a regular basis, and weren't reporting it all the time.
"So I believe that's why (the numbers went up) and we can track that with Wal-Mart's hiring of her."
The Wal-Mart employee charged with this duty, who wasn't identified by company officials on Friday, is responsible for appearing in municipal court for all these cases.
Company officials also wouldn't share what specific tactics the store employs in catching shoplifters — methods believed to have raised the number of cases so drastically in recent years.
"We have in place throughout our stores a series of polices and procedures that are constantly being updated to better the safety of our customers and security of stores," Wal-Mart spokesman Charles Crowson said Friday.
"All of these approaches are taken on a store-by-store basis, what might be necessary and prudent at one might not be necessary at another."
Whether the increase is due in part to a crackdown in the store's policies in recent years or not, the number of shoplifting occurrences are still startling, officials say, and they stand in marked contrast to those in neighboring cities.
Louisville's shoplifting cases have hovered in the teens over the last several years, records indicate, topping out at 20 in 2016; last year, there were only 16.
Though specific numbers for Erie cases between 2013 and 2017 couldn't be accessed, Erie police Cmdr. Mike Haefel said Friday that the town didn't see more than a dozen of shoplifting instances last year. He indicated that those numbers were on par with recent years, and typically occurred at the town's local grocery stores.
In Superior, a 4-square-mile town that's dedicated a significant portion to big box stores like Costco, Super Target and a Whole Foods right off of U.S. 36, the town's shoplifting numbers reflect those of its two other east county neighbors: cases in the single digits in 2015 and 2016 and 22 cases last year, according to municipal records.
Shoplifting case numbers for Boulder and Longmont, which are handled by the Boulder County Combined Court, rather than municipal employees, were not readily available on Friday.
For first-time adult shoplifting offenders, Buchholz said, the punishment is typically 40 hours of community service. If caught a second and subsequent times after that, they will face jail time.
"I don't think there's really an excuse for a second offense," he said, "and sometimes people have 12 and 13 and 30 offenses over a lifetime."
Anthony Hahn: 303-473-1422, email@example.com