“City of Shopping Carts”?

Reader Gary Martin writes:

“Is it just my imagination, or has Stockton become the “City of Shopping Carts”?  It seems I must only drive minutes before seeing an abandoned shopping cart.  Neighborhoods, city streets, freeway onramps, they are everywhere. 

“This past year I began calling stores to request they retrieve their respective carts from our neighborhood.  I feel badly for the store owners, and I regret the countless thieves who abscond with these.  But when I call the stores, most of them don’t seem too excited about getting them back.  Most require multiple calls before apparent action is taken. 

“We have had a Target shopping cart proudly welcoming all guests to the Lincoln Village West neighborhood for two weeks now.  I have called and spoken to a Target manager five of the last eight days, begging them to come reclaim it.  The ardent promises continue to go unfulfilled. 

“It is amazing that we see shopping carts come into our neighborhood from the complete opposite corners of the county.  It is hard to imagine their journeys.  If every store had possession of their every shopping cart, would there be any room left for merchandise?  But seriously, there must be something we could do to diminish this problem that uglifies our community.”

To which I reply:

What is going on is straightforward: Stockton is bankrupt. There is a 2002 shopping cart ordinance on the books, but no police resources to enforce it. The police, understaffed and nearly overwhelmed by gun violence, have prioritized gang intervention and multi-agency missions to take down the worst actors. As well they should. There is no second battalion to deploy to fight property crimes.

Meanwhile, thanks for Measure A, they plan to hire 40 cops a year until they add 120 officers. When they reach that staff level, they will have the manpower to address issues such as this.

I don’t know for certain why a store manager would not want to retrieve valuable property. I can only guess that managers reckon that the ceaseless dispatch of staff to round up carts is as expensive as letting some carts go. If that’s the calculation, it is poor community citizenship.

Don’t get me wrong. I abhor the general Calcutta crumminess around Stockton. But there is a sort of reverse Broken Window Theory in play. As the PD staffs up, it handles only the dire emergencies, then develops its capacity to sweat the small stuff.

If anyone has any ideas how to address this problem under the conditions known as the New Normal, I’m all ears.

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    Michael Fitzgerald

    Mike Fitzgerald is The Record’s award-winning metro columnist. His column runs in the paper three times a week. Born in San Francisco, he was raised in Stockton. His column covers diverse beats including, sometimes, the offbeat. Read Full
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