Police cars and yellow tape mark where a shootout between RRPD officers and an Albuquerque man took place at the Walmart at 901 Unser Blvd. (Garrison Wells/Observer)
In August, as if it were a movie, the Walmart parking lot at 901 Unser Blvd. was the scene of an early morning shooting between an Albuquerque man and Rio Rancho police officers.
But it wasn’t the latest New Mexico production. This was the real thing.
The suspects, Cheyne Estrada and Syra Roman, are in the Sandoval County Detention Center. Estrada, who was suspected of shoplifting, faces two charges of aggravated assault on a peace officer with a deadly weapon and aggravated fleeing a law enforcement officer. He was wounded during the Saturday morning shootout.
Roman was charged with conspiracy to commit receiving or transferring a stolen motor vehicle.
None of the officers was injured.
Walmarts have long been known as magnets for crime — mostly shoplifting. But sometimes, it’s far more serious.
In a two-year span at that Walmart store, 239 people were arrested, according to records obtained by the observer from the Rio Rancho Police Department.
That amounts to about two arrests per week.
The records were from July 13, 2020 through July 25, 2022. Of those, 143 were arrests for shoplifting, records show.
But shoplifting isn’t the only crime that Walmart seems to attract.
In addition to shoplifting, arrests were made for disorderly conduct, aggravated driving while under the influence, larceny, aggravated assault, battery, aggravated assault on a police officer, stalking, armed robbery and possession of drugs.
On Nov. 14, a woman set a Walmart on fire in Edgewood as a distraction so she could shoplift and exchange the goods for money to buy drugs.
That woman, 32-year-old Jessica Campbell of Tijeras, is federally charged with arson in US District Court, according to a story in the Albuquerque Journal.
Walmart, not wanting to give thieves an advantage, doesn’t disclose its security measures, said Walmart spokesman Robert Arrieta.
“Unfortunately, crime has become an issue in many communities across the country, and retailers of all sizes are not immune,” he said in an email statement. “Walmart’s more than 5,000 locations in large and small communities are vital gathering places for millions of consumers every week. And, like other retailers, our properties are sometimes directly impacted by the terrible reality of crime.”
Walmart, he added, takes “meaningful action as a retailer to create a safe environment for our customers and associates and consider local law enforcement invaluable partners in doing so.”
Stores like Walmart, said Jacquelynn Reedy, RRPD spokeswoman, are ripe targets for thieves.
The department, she said, “works closely with Walmart Security to reduce and prevent property crimes.”
But it isn’t just Walmart. Other stores are getting hit during what amounts to a shoplifting epidemic. At a Target store in Rio Rancho recently a man tried to walk out of the entrance with a big-screen TV he didn’t pay for. He didn’t get far before RRPD officers arrested him.
Some of the shoplifting these days, however, is organized crime. That’s changed the one-person shoplifter into a far more powerful enemy of retailers and residents. It’s also increased the potential for violence.
To combat the growing crime, New Mexico recently announced that it is joining a 20-state network to gather data on organized retail crime.
According to Attorney General Hector Balderas, organized retail crime costs New Mexico $1 billion a year. Organized retail criminals, he said “are at the very top of the food chain.”
Businesses, meanwhile, are also taking steps to protect themselves. At the Dick’s Sporting Goods in Cottonwood Place a couple of weeks ago, an armed security guard loomed at the entrance. Dick’s didn’t return phone calls or emails for comment. At a local Ross Dress of Less store, customers wait in line before entering, an employee said.
Store losses nationwide, according to The National Retail Federation, skyrocketed from $453,940 per $1 billion in sales in 2015 to $719,458 in 2020.
While COVID slowed shoplifting down a bit with shutdowns and stores limiting hours, it’s on the rise again. The US Chamber of Commerce earlier this year labeled shoplifting a national crisis.
“These crimes are not victimless,” the US Chamber said in a release. “In addition to the growing number of thefts that turn violent, innocent consumers, employees, local communities, and business owners and shareholders bear the costs of rising retail theft.”