On November 5 2019, the Facebook page “Northeast Police Department (Texas)” shared a post prefaced with “CART AND SAVE,” about the arrest of an individual using a shopping cart to transport groceries from a store to their home:
At 4:14 PM on the date the “CART AND SAVE” post appeared, Northeast Police Department edited their post. Hashtags originally appended to the post were removed in the edits, the final product of which is embedded above. An original post shared at 10:45 AM the same day read in full:
***CART AND SAVE ***
A 22-year-old male from Providence Village had no issues paying for the items he purchased at the Cross Roads Walmart. He did, however, have an issue with the merchandise that he purchased. Apparently, he had no way to transport the items that he bought, home with him. #PlanAhead___IDK #URBulbIsDim #CarryOutLane7
Thinking about it, the male walked out of the store, merchandise still in a shopping cart, crossed the parking lot hitting the road and never looking back. #ItWasntBoltedDown #SwitchedItUp #ThatsNotURS
Believing that he had made a clean get-away, the male made it to Fishtrap Road pushing “his” shopping cart containing his recently purchased goods. That was until he was found impeding traffic and was spotted by a Northeast Police Officer. When stopped and questioned about the situation, and the reason for possessing the shopping cart, the male had no valid answer. He could only say to the officer that he would’ve probably return the cart one day. #URSerious #TisAintCartNSave #CantIKeepIt
This incident lead to the subject’s arrest for Theft of Property =>$100<$750, for stealing a shopping cart, which by the way are more expensive than you think. The male was transported and booked into the Denton County Correctional Center where he will probably become more of an on-line shopper from here on out. #OnMugshotMonday #UCantMakeThisUp
In both the original and the edited version, the Northeast Police Department claimed the individual was initially “found impeding traffic,” and “spotted by” an officer with the department. That officer questioned the man, who indicated that he intended to return the shopping cart. According to police, the man was arrested for “Theft of Property,” punishable by a fine of between $100 and $750. Furthermore, the department said that the man was booked into Denton County Correctional Center, and joked he would “probably become more of an on-line shopper from here on out.”
Thousands of Facebook users shared the post both before and after it was edited, and commenters almost universally expressed strong disapproval and chided the department’s use of discretion in both making and publicizing the arrest, largely opining the officer ought to have driven the man home and allowed him to keep his groceries:
“And just think… what a huge difference you could’ve made if you let this guy go with a warning and offered to get him and his groceries home. Clearly he’s in a bad situation, and now faced with legal fees on top of an already hard time. And these hashtags. Usually, I’m pretty amused. But not today.”
“I understand “theft is theft”! And I do not know the circumstances, but did Walmart know he took off with the cart?? I seriously doubt it! So you could have easily taken him and his groceries home and helped him return the cart! Instead you publicly shame them and bully them! This is not funny and very tasteless! Here is my hashtag for you!!!! #whathappenedtoprotectandSERVE”
“You just blew all of the goodwill and positive feelings you built with me. I eagerly looked forward to your posts and had a feeling of pride for this police department. What a disappointment. I only hope you apologize to this young man, replace his groceries, and let him know that y’all are only human and missed the mark on this one.”
A woman claiming to be the daughter of a police officer replied to the post, maintaining a generally supportive stance on police officers — but she disapproved of the arrest and the post:
My dad is a retired police officer and I am a huge advocate of police officers and support the incredible work they do, but I have to say, y’all went the wrong way on this. This was a teachable moment to help a young man understand why taking the cart was stealing, instead he will now have a record, and fines that he probably can’t even pay. This one event can set his life down a completely different path and instead of being the positive it could have been, you made it negative. I hope that y’all rethink this and drop the charges and don’t pursue this any further. Make this right.
Commenters also expressed interest in helping the man, both with groceries as well as any related court appearances. One wished to “offer him free transportation for the purpose of going to Walmart and his court appearances,” and a self-identified lawyer received over 19,000 engagements on the following comment:
I am a local criminal defense attorney. If anyone knows the person that was arrested, please let them know that I will be honored to represent them for free on this shopping cart theft charge. I will also replace the groceries that were unexpectedly taken from this individual.
On November 6 2019, Northeast Police Department Chief James Edland published a statement about the viral outcry:
In a post titled “Facebook Posts,” Edland stated that had the arrestee “not been arrested and charged with this theft; chances are good he may have been arrested on another charge(s).” Edland wrote that the “bottom line is the subject willingly made the decision to take the property of another without that party’s consent,” and that officers “have the ability to use discretion in certain situations with certain offenses.”
He also said commenters “jump to conclusions about these individuals such as being homeless or trying to feed their family but those are usually false,” maintaining the angered commenters didn’t “understand and enjoy the play on words” used, which was “unfortunate”:
As a police department, we respond to all types of calls for service. Some result in only a simple conversation with various people but unfortunately others will end in an arrest for specific violations. We have the responsibility, among other things to protect the property of those who reside, work or pass thru our two towns as best we can regardless of who they are. We never take arresting someone lightly as it usually has a major impact on their lives but when we are presented certain situations, we do not always have a choice.
I have read most of the comments about the man who was arrested for taking the grocery / shopping cart from Walmart. Some people understand and others do not. Our Facebook posts are usually in regard to cases that are out of the ordinary and meant to be informative. We do not name the individual or any identifying information other than an age, general description and city of residence. What we are not always able to relay in our posts are the demeanor of the subject, prior criminal history, specific details such as the subject stopping at a local restaurant to consume alcoholic beverages prior to our contact and other information the responding officers had at the time that could also have lead to the posted outcome. The bottom line is the subject willingly made the decision to take the property of another without that party’s consent. Officers do have the ability to use discretion in certain situations with certain offenses. Typically, theft is not one of them. Had he not been arrested and charged with this theft; chances are good he may have been arrested on another charge(s). People tend to jump to conclusions about these individuals such as being homeless or trying to feed their family but those are usually false. We typically allow our followers to post freely and express themselves, even when they disagree with what has been posted. All we ask is the language remain free of threats and profanity. If people cannot, then we would be forced to hide or remove the comments or even the post.
Our posts will continue on Facebook in an attempt to keep the public informed of the various calls we respond to as a department. Our hashtags are simply another tool to engage people and create a lighter side to what we as police officers deal with on a daily basis, and not anything else such as the suggested “bullying”. The majority of time, people understand and enjoy the play on words with the specific cases or calls but on rare occasions they do not and that is unfortunate.
Chief James Edland
Northeast Police Department
In response to Edland’s claim the department never takes the decision to arrest lightly, a commenter said:
Yes, you absolutely did. You chided him on social media and made a joke about ruining someones day, potentially their career, or more. Over something most of us have done at least once before. Do you know how many elderly people in my home town borrow a cart to get their groceries home? What is the matter with you people.
Thank you for bravely facing off against the poor man who couldn’t get his groceries home. Dangerous people like him don’t belong on the streets.
Hopefully the $700 you fined him will teach him that if he can’t afford transportation to take his groceries home, then he shouldn’t buy groceries.
Brave and profound.
Readers asked what happened to the man’s groceries, but we did not find any replies from the page. Several commenters also objected to Edland’s statement that it was likely police could or would have arrested the man on other charges:
You literally just stated your officers would have arrested for other charges. Do you comprehend the fact that this can be vastly interpreted as you essentially telling the public “if he wasn’t guilty of one crime, we’d find another”? If you don’t want negative responses, learn basic internet PR and not post up anything related to crimes in a joking fashion. Or better yet, have your officers learn the serve part includes helping those who clearly are in need.
Another common stance in the comments held that the Department ought to have apologized for targeting someone unable to afford a vehicle:
So where is the part where you apologize for making a poor person’s life worse when you could have helped them?
That instance was not the first time Northeast Police Department made news on the topic of shopping carts. In June 2019, news outlets reported that an officer from the Department responded to a “startled cart attendant who found a black and yellow rat snake inside a cart” at the Cross Roads Walmart. It wasn’t immediately clear if the November 2019 incident involved the same retailer.
As of November 7 2019, Northeast Police Department’s shopping cart theft arrest post accrued nearly 10,000 comments and over 5,000 shares. Aside from the “Facebook Posts” statement on November 6 2019, we found no additional comment from the Department about the post or controversy.