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Deputies shopping for area criminals

LAPLACE — Customers shopping at Walmart in LaPlace may have recently noticed St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Office cars parked in the front of the store at all times, and Sheriff Mike Tregre said he wants to make one thing clear.

“We’re not shopping for groceries,” he said. “We’re shopping for criminals.”

Tregre said the Sheriff’s Office and Walmart corporate headquarters inked a deal in which the Sheriff’s Office provides enhanced security for the store during all operating hours.

“I knew we had to have a stronger presence out there,” Tregre said of the store, adding as a community “we’re all there, and it should be safe.”

Tregre said the arrangement has no end date, and he hopes the presence of the Sheriff’s Office deters any criminal behavior at the store.

“Criminals go where the money is,” Tregre said of why the store may have become a place where more theft started to occur. “Where there are more people, there is more opportunity.”

Erin Hofmann, a Walmart national media relations specialist, confirmed the partnership Thursday.

“Walmart’s top priority is maintaining a safe environment for our customers and associates,” she said, adding the arrangement had been in negotiations for about a year.

Hofmann said partnering with local law enforcement agencies is something Walmart does in a lot of markets across the U.S., adding safety measures are reviewed regularly for each store to determine what is best for each community.

“We’re grateful for the partnership,” she said. “We’re excited about it.”

Tregre said security measures, especially this summer with school being out, would focus on young people.

“We won’t have juveniles interrupting the economics of St. John Parish,” Tregre said. “Any child under the age of 16 and not accompanied by a legal guardian will be questioned.”

Tregre said he’s worked with Walmart to get the shrubbery in front of the store trimmed to aid in visibility, and he has started a conversation with store officials about increasing parking lot lighting.

Tregre said this summer more officers would be visible at shopping centers across the parish, with some patrolling on bicycles. Bike training will begin for officers this month, he said, adding “we’re going to saturate the area, especially in the evenings.”