For Texas AG Ken Paxton, Danger Lurks in Every Target Store

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is so worried about the safety of Texans inside Target department stores that he has decided to offer the corporation “assistance” with security resources. Never mind all that violent crime happening in cities across the state with underfunded and shorthanded police forces, such as in Houston: Target stores appear to be the top priority for the state's most senior law enforcement officer.

After one Frisco man peered over a changing room wall with a cellphone camera in May and another customer did something similar in Dallas last month, Paxton decided to take action Friday, releasing the following statement: "After this latest incident, I hope Target finally recognizes the importance of protecting its customers, especially in environments where they can be at their most vulnerable. I am offering them the resources of my office to help assist them in improving their safety procedures."

Although random, it is also an unsurprising announcement coming from the state's Republican leadership, which, last spring, was horrified after Target announced its transgender-friendly bathroom policy. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick vowed on Facebook that he would never step foot in a Target store again. And Paxton sent a letter to the corporation, warning that letting transgender people use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity would lead to “criminal and otherwise unwanted activity.”

Apparently, since Paxton could not find any proof of transgender people preying on innocent women and children in bathrooms anywhere, these sporadic, isolated incidents of creepy cis men in the dressing rooms would have to do. Asked for details on how Paxton will assist Target, AG's office spokesman Marc Rylander said in a statement, “Working with local law enforcement, our office is willing to provide Target with our office's investigative resources and investigative expertise.”

Not that the two incidents Paxton cited are not important, but if he really wanted to devote more taxpayer dollars to safety and law enforcement at department stores, he could have at least done a little more research. Over the past decade, researchers across the country have tried various times to understand why Walmart stores have such a disproportionate crime rate compared to other similar stores, like Target. Consider this headline in Bloomberg Businessweek last month: “Walmart’s Out-of-Control Crime Problem Is Driving Police Crazy.”

Back in 2006, many Texas Walmarts were the subject of a study comparing Walmart crime to Target crime, which found that Walmart had a 400 percent higher rate of police incidents than the fancier Target. At nine Texas Walmart locations, there were 6,525 police incidents in a single year, compared to Target's 1,632. Cost to taxpayers nationally was roughly 4.4 times more to send police to Walmarts compared to Target stores. Houston Press staff writer Carter Sherman reviewed that study for her most recent cover story on inhalant abuse, facilitated by Walmart cashiers selling inhalants to totally wasted addicts with vomit on their T-shirts.

But never mind the department store comparisons. Perhaps if Paxton really wanted to help keep people safe, he could take a look at the most populous city in his state, Houston, and notice that his rank and file officers are serving on a police force only 5,200 strong — at least 1,000 fewer than the city needs to tackle its violent crime, police officials have said. By comparison, Chicago, which has only about 500,000 more residents than Houston, has nearly 12,000 officers.

But, again, who are we to question the chief law enforcement officer's allocation of precious resources—Target must really be where the real criminals are at.
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Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn