The Corner

Law & the Courts

It’s Not the Stores’ Fault

An employee walks with shopping carts at a Costco store in Fairfax, Va., in 2010. Costco (Larry Downing/Reuters)

In Lakewood, Wash., some of the city’s homeless and other residents have made a habit of stealing shopping carts from various grocery and retail outlets and dumping the carts on road verges and other public-facing locales. The number of cart-related complaints made to the municipal government increased 40 percent in 2019, and Lakewood officials claim the scattered carts make the city appear “blighted.”

The city’s proposed solution to this state of affairs, which residents say threatens property values, is not to punish the vagrants — whose theft and subsequent disposal of private property inconveniences the stores and the broader public — but instead to fine the stores from which the property is stolen. From the Tacoma News Tribune:

Lakewood and shop owners in the city are exasperated by stolen shopping carts being dumped on streets, sidewalks, at bus stops and in neighborhoods.

The city’s answer: Fine supermarkets and retailers if their shopping carts are found off store property.

Shop owners and employees were exasperated by the policy:

Brian Park owns Pal-Do World Market on South Tacoma Way. He said he is glad the city sees it as an issue — Park’s store has had consistent shopping cart thefts — but doesn’t feel the law is fair.

“You cannot carry someone else’s property off of their property,” he said. “It’s not fair that if the user takes property, I get fined for it.”

A Pal-Do security guard, John Nauer, gets his steps in by returning every cart in the parking lot inside the store as soon as it stops being used by a customer. Nauer drives around the city on his day off to pick up discarded carts near dumpsters and bus stops. He said he found five Pal-Do shopping carts last week about 10 minutes away from the store.

The Tribune says that the new “law waives fees for the first eight carts collected by the city, but then the store is fined $100 per cart, surging to $200 by the 12th cart found outside of the store’s property.”

When asked why the city declined to fine the persons who steal the carts, a city council member claimed, “It just doesn’t make sense.” I’m not sure the alternative does, either.

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