Walmart hires off-duty officers ahead of El Paso reopening

Texas News

EL PASO, Texas (AP) — Walmart has quietly hired off-duty officers at its stores in El Paso, Texas, where a gunman police say targeted Mexicans opened fire in a store in August and killed 22 people.

The retail giant reopened the store where the attack happened Thursday amid ongoing lawsuits over safety. Walmart didn’t have a guard in the store the day of the mass shooting.

About 50 shoppers lined up early to enter the renovated location, and they streamed past dozens of sheriff’s deputies, security guards and store employees once the doors opened. Workers greeted the shoppers with cheers of “Welcome back to Walmart!”

Police say Patrick Crusius drove more than 10 hours from his grandparents’ house where he lived in a Dallas suburb to carry out the attack. Crusius, 21, has pleaded not guilty. More than 3,000 people from largely Latino El Paso and neighboring Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, were at the store when the attack happened.

“There was a time that Walmart hired off-duty officers and for some time prior (to) August 3rd that ceased,” El Paso police spokesman Enrique Carrillo said in an email. He declined to provide more details.

When Police Chief Greg Allen first revealed the phasing out of officers during a City Council meeting, council members discussed possibly requiring that off-duty officers be hired at large stores, though the idea hasn’t been implemented.

Instead, Walmart quietly started hiring off-duty officers at their stores throughout the city, from its sprawling Supercenters to its smaller neighborhood grocery stores.

“We’re covering Walmarts, we’re also covering Sam’s (Club),” said El Paso police union president Ron Martin. “Even the neighborhood Walmarts are being covered. Some of them are being covered by sheriff’s deputies, some of them are being covered by our guys. I mean, I have seen some constables working it.”

Martin said it’s unclear how long Walmart will continue to staff every location.

The off-duty officers are paid about $50 per hour, depending on their rank, which is about double the officers’ full-time hourly wage.

Walmart officials declined to discuss the hiring of police officers, the costs, or if the company is taking similar steps in other cities.

“We typically do not share our security measures publicly because it could make them less effective, but they may include hiring additional security, adding cameras in store and using ‘lot cops’ in the parking lot,” said Walmart spokeswoman Delia Garcia, referring to security cameras placed in parking lots. “We will continue our long-standing practice of regularly evaluating our staffing, training, procedures, and technology which are designed to provide a safe working and shopping experience.”

Garcia said in a statement that shoppers may notice additional security at the Walmart that is reopening “to help facilitate traffic flow and support other store needs.”

Some victims are suing Walmart over the lack of security on the day of the attack, arguing that the company’s method of evaluating security boils down to an inadequate algorithm.

On a recent Friday morning, brothers Robert and Jaime Serrano ate pizza in the food court of a Sam’s Club — Walmart’s membership-based store — adjacent to the shooting site.

“It should reopen because you can’t let these people win,” said Robert Serrano. “We’re still here and we’re more cautious.”

Construction workers have broken ground on a permanent memorial in the store’s parking lot, a “Grand Candela” that will be around 30 feet (9.14 meters) tall and could be finished in as little as three weeks.

The reopening of the El Paso store also comes as Walmart has dipped its toe into the gun debate. It plans to post signage with its new policy discouraging customers from openly carrying guns. But it is not banning them.

A month after the mass shooting in El Paso, Walmart announced that it planned to phase out sales of certain kinds of ammunition in its stores.

The move will reduce its market share of ammunition from around 20% to less than 10%, according to Walmart. About half of its more than 4,750 U.S. stores sell firearms, but they account for only 2% of guns sold in the U.S. Most are sold through thousands of unaffiliated gun shops or gun shows, not big retail chains.

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AP Retail Writer Anne D’Innocenzio in New York contributed to this report.

Copyright 2019 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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