Shoplifting calls at certain Mesa businesses are tying up patrol officers for hours each week, so police want stores to do more to stop thieves.

At one store alone — Wal-Mart, 1955 S. Stapley Drive — police spend at least six hours a week responding to an average of nearly five shoplifters who try to steal property, records show.

Mesa Police Chief George Gascón said the problem means police officers lose time dealing with more serious crimes in the community.

“If (a store has) that problem — and we know which ones do — then they need to step up to the plate and say, ‘We have a problem,’ and there is more social responsibility,” Gascón said.

Some of those stores the department is trying to work with are Safeway, 1960 W. Main St., and Target, 1230 S. Longmore. Both have an average of about two shoplifting calls per week, records show. Officials said crooks also steal goods from Home Depot and various Fiesta Mall stores.

“It’s a hunting issue,” Mesa police spokesman Detective Chris Arvayo said. “You’re gonna go where everything is at ... a one-stop shop.”

Gascón said he would like stores to take a more proactive approach to prevent shoplifting, instead of catching thieves after the fact. He said uniformed security, prominently displayed signs and cameras, along with other visible security devices, would help.

“There are retail operations that reward reduction of losses and retail operations that reward arrests,” Gascón said at a police meeting.

Gascón wants stores to change their reward systems, if necessary. However, the chief also knows stores want to strike a balance between marketing their products and preventing thefts.

“When you market stuff to sell, you might put them close to an entryway,” Arvayo said. “That’s a good strategy to sell the item, but also an enticing way for someone to do a grab and run.”

Wal-Mart spokesman Daniel Morales said his company has people dedicated specifically to “crime prevention” in its stores. “We use security cameras and have associates that help catch and stop the shoplifters,” Morales said.

He would not discuss specific security measures.

Safeway spokeswoman Nikki Daly said the grocery chain places high-theft items — such as beer — near doorways and puts additional personnel in aisles that would be attractive to shoplifters.

Daly said that Safeway wants to work with police, but not “overutilize them.”

And Wal-Mart doesn’t even call police if an item stolen is a small dollar amount. Morales would not disclose the exact figure, but The New York Times reported in 2006 that Wal-Mart only prosecutes for thefts of $25 or more.

Target is actively partnering with police to work together to cut shoplifting, Gascón said.

But he would still like to see everyone — police and retailers — become more efficient in dealing with theft.

“Every scenario is slightly different,” Gascón said. “What may work in one store today, may or may not work in another store. We have a duty to try to find ways to accomplish the mission, yet be able to reduce the expenditures of police resources.”

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