Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said Thursday that it had eased its hard-line policy on shoplifting and was no longer prosecuting first-time thieves caught stealing goods worth less than $25.
Wal-Mart spokesman John Simley said the change in policy would enable the retailer to focus on larger thefts and organized crime, which account for the bulk of merchandise stolen every year.
"If someone is a repeat offender or is violent or disruptive to the store, we will still call the police and we will prosecute," Simley said.
Wal-Mart has always defended its aggressive prosecution of shoplifters, saying it has helped hold down prices.
The company confirmed the policy shift after the New York Times cited internal documents saying that Wal-Mart would no longer prosecute first-time thieves unless they were 18 to 65 years old and had stolen merchandise worth at least $25, instead of a previous $3 threshold.
Small-town police departments across the U.S. have protested what Wal-Mart has called its zero-tolerance policy on shoplifting, with managers calling police for any theft.
"It is a burden on the police when they have to deal with every small or petty theft reported," Simley said.
Wal-Mart shares fell 99 cents to $44.16.