Crime Prevention 101

moneyClear visuals, strict till limits and great customer service are keys to deterring convenience store robberies.
Marilyn Odesser-Torpey, Associate Editor

Robbery occurs less often than some other crimes, but the potential for loss, injury and death is much greater during a single robbery incident, according to the convenience store security guidelines for owners and managers provided by the North Carolina Governor’s Crime Commission.

Retailers have the ability to maximize the risk and minimize the rewards for would-be robbers, however. As proof, a growing number of convenience stores have smart safes and security cameras in place.

However, not all defensive measures have to be a big investment, said Jeff Lenard, vice president of industry relations and communications for the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS).

First line of sight is important and easy to achieve. Windows should be free of signs and other clutter to ensure that visibility inside to outside and vice-versa is clear. Also, good lighting around the store is important. Together, Lenard said, these two simple considerations are effective ways to reduce the chance of a store becoming a target for crime.

“If a person thinks he can rob the store without being seen from the sidewalk or street, that is encouraging the crime,” Lenard said. “The employees outside can also see if someone or a group of individuals are loitering outside, or if something just doesn’t look right.”

Employees should be trained to protect themselves and the business by reporting any suspicious person or activity immediately, and by making notes for future reference, the Crime Commission determined.

Another first line of defense is following the protocols of great customer service because the presence of alert, efficient and capable employees is likely to discourage a thief, according to recommended guidelines.

“Employees should make eye contact and offer a friendly greeting to all customers as soon as they walk in the door,” said Ian Johnstone, manager of 70 Cenex Zip Trip locations owned or operated by St. Paul, Minn.-based CHS Inc. “If a would-be criminal knows that he has been noticed in the building, that might just be enough to deter a robbery.”

The company is also vigilant about educating employees to utilize the time delay drop safe for big bills and excess cash, and strictly maintaining till limits.
If bills are flying out of the drawers or if employees are seen putting them underneath the till, that’s an invitation to a robbery, Johnstone said.

“We enforce our till limits aggressively by doing mini audits, having supervisors check the tills and making sure regular safe drops are being made,” Johnstone said. “We’re diligent about telling our employees what the protocols and procedures are and why we have them in place, but we have still had to terminate people for exceeding till limits because that puts everyone in danger.”

Johnstone noted that clerks have expressed their concern that with such a small amount of money in the till, they might not be able to make change for a customer who comes in with a $100 bill.

“We tell them for the few times this is likely to happen, keeping more money in the till is not worth the risk of robbery,” Johnstone said.

When a register isn’t in use, the empty till is put on the check stand to show would-be robbers that there is no cash inside. All 70 of the Cenex Zip Trip stores are tied into a digital video recorder system so all cash handling can be monitored in real time, anytime.

“We think the DVR system is an important investment in safety for all of our stores,” Johnstone said.

The North Carolina Crime Commission also recommends that c-store operators post a visible notice that only a small amount of cash is on hand and that employees on duty cannot access the safe. The notice should be posted in a central place, obvious immediately to any patron entering the store.

“If a would-be robber knows there is a drop safe that cannot be sped up or short-circuited, he is not likely to want to stick around,” Lenard said. “Time is not the robber’s friend.”

Time should be considered when planning bank drops. Bank deposits shouldn’t be made at the same time every day, Johnstone said. That way, no patterns can be determined, and perpetrators can’t take advantage.

The commission recommended making deposits at the bank often each day, and at different times. Employees are cautioned to carry deposits inconspicuously inside their clothing. Some police forces will also provide escorts, so that may be something to research. But even with an escort, it is important not to establish a predictable pattern of bank deposits, Lenard said.

If a robbery should occur, employees should once again rely on quality customer service protocol to get them through it safely.

“We tell operators to train their employees to treat robbers as they would their best customers,” Lenard explained. “The idea is to give them what they want and get them out as quickly as possible.”

The bottom line is that store employees shouldn’t resist at all during a hold-up.

“Crooks tend to make poor decisions, especially if alcohol or drugs are involved, so it is very important for store employees to remain calm and not give the robbers any reason to be jittery,” Lenard said. “The likelihood of violence ramps up if robbers think they perceive any sign of resistance.”

At Cenex Zip Trip “we don’t want heroes, we want safe associates, vendors and customers,” Johnstone said. “We don’t get robbed much because we make it clear that there is not going to be much money to be gotten.”

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  • Larry Miller

    Marilyn, Good article. It amazes me that here it is 2014 and I still walk into stores as a customer and see large bills and even thick stacks of ones and fives in cash drawers & as a customer it scares me to be standing there! I still see it in chains as well as single operator stores although the largest operators have on the whole done a good job of security.

    As an Industry we still need to reach out and stress to the independent operators the importance of keeping $30.00 or less in the till. The news of even one store getting robbed of Hundreds and Hundreds of dollars during a robbery puts all workers in that area at risk. Articles like this help keep the message fresh and top of mind for everyone.

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