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A Gun, Some Cash And A Robbery Experience Are All Too Common

Posted on 5/24/11 9:30 AM

It is closing time for a well known discount retailer in Chicago.  The seasoned assistant manager begins her normal closing routine.  She directs the two cashiers to begin counting down their registers, and notifies the store detective that they have 10 minutes left before she will lock the front doors.  The store detective walks the sales floor and checks the fitting rooms for any customers lingering around.  As he approaches the front of the store, three men enter.

No sooner as the assistant manager says, “I’m sorry, we are closing for the night,” two of the men produce handguns and point them at the store detective and the assistant manager.  The detective and two cashiers are told to lay on the floor face down as one of the men point his weapon at them.  The youngest cashier, a nineteen year old female back home from college for the summer, begins sobbing uncontrollably.

While one of the men fills a plastic grocery bag with the cash from the two registers, the assistant manager is grabbed by the arm by another and directed to the cash room at the back of the store. No directions are needed because they already know where it is located.   Once in the cash room the assistant manager begins to panic.  She is alone with two men, one armed with a handgun yelling “open the safe!”  Shaken, unable to form words and hearing the beat of her own heart, she cannot remember the combination.  On her third attempt the safe opens and its contents are emptied into another plastic bag. 

The crime now complete, the two men rush the assistant manager to the front of the store. As she walks up a main aisle, the assistant manager notices that she is not wearing shoes and is completely unaware as to what happened to them. The men leave the store and the four employees remain still, lying face down on the sales floor. The store detective asks the assistant manager if he should get up and call the police, but she is now sobbing and does not respond.

Unfortunately stories like this are not make believe. From early on in my loss prevention career, I have investigated incidents like this and many lessons have stuck with me throughout those years. Robberies are frightening and traumatic experiences for anyone to experience and at the rate of one per minute in the United States (2010 FBI Uniform Crime Reports) awareness can go a long way in making sure they do not become deadly experiences.

It is impossible to know whether or not this particular robbery could have been prevented, but there are certainly steps that can be taken to mitigate the risk of such an event.  Store openings, closings and lunch periods are vulnerable time periods for most businesses due to low staffing, low customer traffic and large amounts of cash on hand.  Robberies also increase during the winter months due to the extended periods of darkness.

Know Your Surroundings

  • Assess Pedestrian Activity – High activity areas are less prone to robberies.  Assess the quantity and type of traffic, times of high and low activity and potential for increasing traffic and activity.

  • Who is in your store – Your employees should know who is in their store and where they are, especially during vulnerable time periods.

  • Watch For Suspicious Activity – Store staff should keep alert and watch for individuals who are “hanging around” and do not appear to be shopping or making purchases, especially around openings and closings.

Don’t Make Your Store a Target

  • Good Visibility and Lighting – It is important to provide as Robbery resized 600much visibility as possible into your store from the outside with focus on the register area.  Eliminate any dark areas and ensure that street and foot traffic from outside of your store have clear visibility into the store during the day and especially at night.

  • Keep Low Amounts of Cash – Keep the amount of funds in cash registers low by making drops when necessary.  A robber will know large amounts of cash are available if they see large bills in the registers.  Establish and enforce policies that limit the maximum amount money in cash registers.

  • Be Discreet When Counting Cash – When counting large amounts of cash or preparing deposits, do so when there are no customers in the store. 

  • Greet Customers - It is important to greet every customer that enters your store and make good eye contact with them.  Employee attention can discourage a robber.

What To Do During A Robbery

  • Do Not Resist – Robbers seldom hurt people who cooperate with them.

  • Store managers and employees should tell the robber about anything that may surprise them such as someone who is expected to arrive.  If they have to make any movements or reach for anything, they should make the robber aware in advance and explain.

  • The victims of a robbery should take a mental picture of the robber and be prepared to provide as much detail to the police as possible.

  • Do Not Chase – Following a robbery it is important to give the robber time to leave.  Nobody should chase or follow them. 

  • Call 911 – The police should be notified immediately after the robbery and employees should explain what happened.

No matter how safe a business may be inside and out, managers and employees must put robbery deterrence rules into effect. Training is important so an employee can react calmly and quickly in the event of a robbery.  Training your personnel and periodically refreshing them on robbery deterrence procedures can curb such events and demonstrates your concern for customer and employee safety.

Written by Hoda Ilyavi, CFI, Director of Field Operations

Topics: training and awareness, Loss Prevention program and development