By Erin Rigik, Senior Editor
Problem: Crime in your markets of operation is becoming a concern.
Solution: Institute best practices in store security, from adding surveillance cameras, smart safe equipment and training all your employees on how to respond in the event of a robbery to taking steps to prevent any robberies from occurring.
The most important tool for convenience stores in battling theft is to have a well-managed store with sound procedures that are actively enforced, according to Rosemary Erickson, Ph.D, president of Athena Research Corp.
“All stores need to have the basic program for robbery and violence prevention,” Erickson said. “These steps are tested and include: lighting and visibility; training employees; limiting escape routes; posting signs regarding low cash; controlling the cash; posting signs that clerk cannot open safe; and CCTV inside and out.”
In fact, the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) has materials on best practices in crime prevention available for purchase, Erickson added.
While keeping the inside of the store safe, it’s equally important to assess crime in the community and around the c-store parameters on a regular basis. “If you have a store in a high crime area with a history of crime at the store, and are open in the late night, consider additional measures, which include the following: off-duty police officers; security guards; and bullet-resistant barriers,” Erickson said.
Karen Shroyer, owner of Jiffy Mini Marts in Sullivan, Ind., has seen firsthand how a police presence can protect a store from crime. A local store, Jiffy Mini Marts attracts the business of a number of state, county and city police, which the company encourages by offering small perks.
“We offer them free drinks and give them the WiFi password—which is just used by our company, not customers. I’d rather have them hang out here than at the McDonald’s down the street,” Shroyer said. “Having them in our store helps creating a safer environment, especially at night. Women don’t have to worry about coming into the store because it’s well lit and has a police presence—we don’t have any trouble.”(For more on Jiffy Mini Marts, see the profile article on page 10.)
Convenience store chain Mac’s, a division of Alimentation Couche-Tard in Canada, uses used video surveillance, among other tactics, to reduce crime at its stores. In March 2012, the company launched the MacsCrimeBusters program, where it posts photos and videos of robbers on social media, and asks the public to assist it in bringing the criminals to to justice by calling Crime Stoppers anonymously.
“To date we’ve posted 179 bad guys. We have had 130 apprehensions and 143 cases cleared, giving us a 73% clearance rate, so the program is going phenomenally well,” said Sean Sportun, manager of security and loss prevention for Mac’s Convenience Stores. He oversees the crime prevention programs for 565 stores.
In addition to catching the bad guys, Mac’s continues to work to send a clear message to criminals that Mac’s isn’t the place to commit their crimes in the first place. One way Mac’s is working to prevent crime is through a graffiti art project called Toronto StreetART Initiative, where Mac’s representatives meet with the police and community members in the town and use community input to create a mural that is representative of the community—right on the side of the c-store. The mural also includes the Crime Stoppers message and tip line number.
For each Toronto StreetART Initiative, Mac’s also holds a community street party to further get its message out to the public.
“The theory behind the graffiti art is a community-engagement type of philosophy where if we can make the community own that store, then they are less likely to commit crimes against the store,” Sportun said. “A lot of the crime that happens around our stores isn’t coming from transient people passing through town, but from local people who live in the community, so if we can make them understand that this is a community store and everyone is watching the store and taking ownership of the store, then they are more than likely to find someone else to victimize.”
The results speak for themselves. A Mac’s store in Thunder Bay, Ontario, which had one of the highest crime rates of all Mac’s stores hasn’t had a single incident since the mural was created.
Mac’s has also expanded its Crime Stoppers program. Instead of just blasting out photos on Facebook and Twitter of criminals, the chain now posts video footage to YouTube of crimes committed at its c-stores, which has proved effective. YouTube acts as a place the chain can direct crime reporters and law enforcement agencies alike to the videos, thus getting the word out faster.
“It’s also helpful because a video is better than an image, because if you see a video of someone walking you might think, ‘Hey, I know who walks like that,’” Sportun said.
Understanding the Criminal Mind
Simply understanding what potential robbers look for when planning a robbery—and what discourages them —can assist convenience store owners and operators in
further protecting their locations.
According to Erickson’s 2003 study “Teenage Robbers How and Why They Rob,” the key thing potential robbers look for when casing a convenience store is having an escape route. That still holds true today.
Other considerations include the amount of money they can get, and whether there is an active police patrol at the store. Robbers also said they wanted to avoid places with armed guards, stores with more than one clerk, and sites where they feel they might be recognized.
Also, a bullet resistant barrier, revolving doors, an alarm system and a working video surveillance system are proven deterrents. Those stores that are well-lit and offer clerks visibility—as opposed to windows covered by signs and displays—also help keep robbers at bay, the study stated.
In keeping with best practices, require that your clerks keep only a minimal amount of cash inside the register. Smart safes now exist where once the money is inserted into the safe, clerks can’t open it. Posting signs that convenience store registers have low cash on hand and that clerks don’t have the ability to open the safe, as well as following safe money handing procedures—such as never flashing large sums of money in front of customers—can help prevent theft. It’s also vital to school cashiers in what to do in the event of a robbery.
Athena Research Corp.’s Teenage Robbers study also instructs victims on how they can avoid unnecessary risks or getting hurt during a robbery. Employees should comply by handing over the money, obeying the robber’s commands and keeping hands in sight. They advised not to resist, talk, stare, plead, make any sudden movements, try to be a hero or chase the perpetrator out the door.
“Think of your store as a day store and a night store,” Erickson suggested. “You can choose to close at late night, or consider taking additional steps for making your employees, or yourself, safe during that shift.”