Police have warned the Wal-Mart in Midtown Anchorage it could be fined over a rising number of nuisance calls associated with drunken people at the store.
Anchorage police so far this year have responded to more than 80 nuisance calls associated with the store, said Lt. Garry Gilliam, commander of the Anchorage Police Department's Community Action Policing Team. Per city code, a commercial property is limited to 100 nuisance calls a year. The CAP team issues warnings to properties approaching the limit, Gilliam said.
If Wal-Mart goes over the limit, the store will receive a formal notice of violation from APD. At that point, the store can be fined $500 for each excessive call for service and will have 30 days to come up with a written plan for correcting problems, Gilliam said.
A spokesman for Wal-Mart, Brian Nick, confirmed the store has been warned about the number of nuisance calls and has been working with police "on an ongoing basis."
Nick acknowledged the store was recently made aware it was approaching the APD limit for nuisance calls. He said it was the first such notification the store has received.
Gilliam said it's been at least a year since the CAP team identified the Midtown Wal-Mart as an "area of interest" associated with chronic inebriates. The store began selling alcohol in 2011.
He said the CAP team has found, through surveillance, "Wal-Mart is selling a significant amount of alcohol to these chronic inebriates," and the number of calls for service to the store have spiked significantly.
Meanwhile, the availability of alcohol at Wal-Mart, combined with the store's proximity to a high-traffic Midtown thoroughfare frequented by panhandlers, appears to be tied to complaints from area businesses about disruptive behavior, Gilliam said.
Wal-Mart's property at 3101 A St. is bordered by trees and other vegetation. Police have noticed people buying alcohol from the small liquor area near the front of the store, walking across the property and retreating to nearby wooded areas to drink.
The Community Action Policing Team has met with Wal-Mart managers several times during the last year, Gilliam said. While employees at the store have not been selling alcohol illegally, he said, the team's goal has been to encourage the store to analyze its selling practices and be more aware of what is happening on the property.
For example, clerks are being encouraged to look out for "straw purchases," in which a group sends in its most sober member to buy alcohol, Gilliam said.
"They need to look a little further outside the door, see what's happening outside on their property," Gilliam said. "This negatively affects the neighborhood."
The store has a right to refuse to sell to people drinking openly on the property, Gilliam said.
Store managers are now reinforcing training for employees and working directly with police, Nick said.
"They have had conversations with the police about making sure all of their policies related to the sale of alcohol are being constantly reinforced and updated," said Nick, speaking by phone from Wal-Mart's national corporate media headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas.
One Midtown property manager said it's hard to pinpoint Wal-Mart as the source of what has become an overarching issue for the neighborhood.
"Whether it's Wal-Mart, whether it's somewhere else, we don't know," said John Opinsky of Anchorage-based commercial real estate firm Frampton and Opinsky, which manages 70 acres in Midtown. "But the Midtown vagrant problem is becoming an increasingly large issue over the last eight to 10 years."
About six months ago, Opinsky's firm hired an additional security patrol to drive away troublemakers. Businesses have reported people relieving themselves on buildings, loitering and leaving garbage, Opinsky said.
That includes businesses located along Denali Street, directly east of Wal-Mart. Rachel Schwartz, manager of Summit Spice and Tea Co., said her employees called the CAP team once a week in the winter to report drunken people coming inside and causing problems.
Next door, inside the Classic Woman clothing store, owner Lauren Blanchett said drunken people have periodically come inside, though they have not been disruptive.
She said she is thankful the building managers are providing increased security.
"It makes us feel more comfortable," she said.