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Convenience Store Security

 C-Store Robbery Prevention History

Convenience stores (c-stores) are unique commercial properties in that they are usually open 24-hours, are largely a cash-based business, can be operated by one clerk, and are conveniently located for quick in and out shopping. The nature of this business makes it very convenient for customers. Unfortunately, this business style also makes it an attractive target for robbers and other criminals. Since 1976, the convenience store industry has made major strides toward preventing and deterring robberies. Back then, those late night businesses were an obvious robbery target because they were the only game in town. However, the c-store business has evolved since the 70s and is now far more complex.

Store Design Changes

Modern convenience stores are sophisticated corporate designs that hardly resemble the mom and pop operations from which they evolved. In the 70s, c-stores were just beginning to operate 24-hours per day. Most stores were 2400 square feet in size or less and did not sell gasoline. Monthly average sales volume of $25,000 was considered outstanding that generated a daily bank deposit of maybe $700 in cash. Typical stores were located mid-block in high-density residential neighborhoods. Security consisted of a small floor safe, a manual cash register, an under counter hiding place (cigar box) for the change fund, and strategically placed anti-shoplifting convex mirrors.

Now, many other business types are operating 24-hours per day. Many large grocery stores are now operating 24-hours as well as restaurants, gas stations, and even home improvement centers. The convenience store business has definitely changed. Most convenience stores today are high volume corner locations that sell more gasoline than the major oil company outlets. Most food staples have been replaced with higher gross-profit snack items and fast food. C-stores now sell enormous amounts of lottery tickets, phone cards, and other specialty items that produce tremendous cash flow. When ATM machines began appearing in the early-80s, it created havoc with the store change fund because more customers started to pay with twenty-dollar bills. Stores all of a sudden need a huge change fund to make it through the day or a long holiday weekend. This new cash-flow trend created unanticipated security problems.

Early Security Tactics

Convenience store security, as it existed in the mid-1970s, was largely seen as a police problem. The more serious problems that affected these late-night businesses were crimes like armed robbery and assaults on customers and store employees. The most prevalent crimes were “beer runs” and shoplifting that plagued the inexperienced store operator and tended to generate the most calls for police assistance. There were no research or effective crime prevention programs at that time that focused on these security issues.

Most law enforcement agencies in the mid-1970s thought convenience stores were a nuisance. The police couldn’t understand why these small markets had to be open 24-hours a day and why they tried to operate with only one clerk on duty. Robbers were netting $300-500 per job and the word got out on the street that convenience stores were an easy and often lucrative target. Law enforcement didn’t know how to prevent convenience store crime other then by arresting the perpetrators. The problem became so acute, in some cities, that the police tried stakeouts, undercover graveyard clerks, and even backroom shotgun squads. All of these methods failed and caused horrific violence in a few cases.

Robbery Prevention Evolution

Initially, what evolved were new programs to help convenience stores identify the robbers and take them off the street. Black and white video cameras were becoming more affordable and were beginning to be installed into a few stores. Robberies dropped dramatically in those few stores as well as shortages due to employee theft. Simultaneously, a law enforcement entrepreneur developed a mechanized 35mm camera (Crime Eye) that was disguised into a speaker box that would activate during a robbery when “bait money” was pulled from a money clip that was installed inside the cash register. Both of these systems provided the police, for the first time, images of the robbers which aided in their arrest and clearance of hundreds of robberies. This new technology told us that a relatively small group was responsible for committing multiple robberies. The only problem was that these speaker box cameras stood out like a sore thumb and the cameras were often out of film at the critical time.

WBSI Crime Deterrence Study

In 1975, Western Behavioral Sciences Institute (WBSI) published a study on robbery deterrence. This groundbreaking study put together the basis for today’s robbery prevention programs across the country. This study set out to prove the theory that convenience store robbers used a selection process before choosing targets and therefore could be deterred by making a c-store less attractive to them. The study said, in part, that robbers considered escape routes, amount of money available, number of clerks on duty, and available witnesses before they would commit to the robbery. The study went on to say that nighttime lighting and visibility were important factors to make the robber fear being “on stage” during the commission of a robbery.

7-Eleven Robbery Prevention Program

As a result of the findings published in the WBSI study, an entire robbery prevention program was developed by Southland Corporation (7-Eleven Stores) and was implemented into approximately 6500 convenience stores nationwide beginning in 1976. Surprisingly, the store operators poorly received the initial launch of this crime prevention program and the results reflected their lack of enthusiasm.

by Chris E McGoey, CPP, CSP, CAM

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