January 30, 2006
Expect More. Pay Less. Fight Crime.™
Target does a good job promoting its charitable work in education, arts, and community service, but the Washington Post has a great profile of Target's extensive contributions to law enforcement and forensics. Get this: Target's HQ in Minneapolis has one of the top forensic labs in the world, and its investigators now spend 45% of their time doing pro bono work helping law enforcement all over the country solve violent crimes.
A lot of big department stores coordinate their security efforts with local police departments to deal with shoplifting and property damage, but Target takes the smarter approach of working with law enforcement to prevent crime in the entire community. In Minneapolis, they helped the city and state coordinate their databases of criminals using the same technology that Target uses to track inventory, and now the federal government is considering adapting it to a national database.
Treating repeat offenders like they're retail inventory obviously doesn't address the underlying causes of violent crime, but Target is taking a much broader and more interesting approach to corporate philanthropy than the more typical company's disease-oriented walk-a-thon. But I can't find any clear mention of this stuff on the corporate philanthropy and local giving pages on their website.
Another point to consider is the murky nature of a close alliance between a giant corporation and local government. In one sort of creepy public/private venture, the Target Foundation pays for a lawyer in the Minneapolis prosecutor's office through a grant, and measures the grant's success by number of convictions the lawyer gets.
Many American consumers trust and like Target (including me) even though it has many of the same questionable business practices as the much-loathed Wal-Mart. But do we want big corporations doing law enforcement? A company contributing to the security of its community is all well and good, as long as its role is strictly supporting the work of local government and police, and not turning itself into CSI: Minneapolis. One anecdote at the end of the Post article illustrates the point.
"Such close cooperation sometimes has Target employees working as de facto law enforcement officials. Chris W. Nelson, director of assets protection for the retailer, recalled one case in which he worked with federal agents for two years to break up a crime ring. He questioned informants, got to know some of the suspects and was there as a federal SWAT team surrounded one of the ringleaders on a speedboat on a lake in Minnesota. The suspect stopped short as he spotted Nelson in the crowd and shouted, 'What the fuck is Target doing here?!' "
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