It is a crime so prevalent that it has garnered a special nickname. If you use the words "Stop and Rob" in describing a robbery to any police officer in America, he or she will immediately recognize it as a convenience store robbery. Such crimes account for approximately six percent of all robberies reported to police.
Daily, some 135,000 convenience stores in the U.S. serve 100 million Americans who find their easy in-and-out access appealing.
Unfortunately, such convenience isn't lost on criminals who have historically found convenience stores equally attractive and for much the same reason. And with more than 80 percent of Americans preferring a convenience store to a supermarket, it is unlikely the convenience store boon will end anytime soon. Knowing this, you must formulate plans to combat robberies at convenience stores.
There is a sense of immediacy associated with convenience stores. They tend to specialize in smaller products sold for quick consumption. Grocery selections are often limited here, but rarely is there a shortage of fast-moving items like tobacco, beverages, newspapers, snacks, and bakery products. Larger convenience stores may even sell hot dogs and nachos, or have sandwiches that can be heated in a microwave oven. These establishments make their money by selling a large number of small items to many different customers.
It follows that the vast majority of transactions involve sales of less than $20, with most people paying in cash. Herein lies a huge attraction to a would-be robber; the cash register is full of smaller denomination bills.
No less appealing to a robber is the almost universal lack of security. Convenience stores are usually manned by one employee, especially after 10 p.m. These employees are often not only inexperienced, but seriously deficient in any type of training that will deter a robber. Often they are encouraged to comply with robbers, and rightly so: Convenience store employees are second only to taxicab drivers in rates of workplace homicides.
If employee compliance wasn't enough, the store's advertising layout often proves attractive to the prospective robber. Many stores cover their windows with ads and store displays. These items simultaneously block the employee's view of individuals who may be loitering around the front of the store while blocking any chance of a passing police officer observing a robbery in progress.
Combine these factors with often 24-hour accessibility and it isn't surprising to find convenience stores are prime targets for robbery.
Most convenience store robberies are committed by males under 25 years of age. The majority of robbers report that they were under the influence of an intoxicant at the time of the robbery. Offenders prefer to commit the robberies near where they live and usually strike between 10 p.m. and midnight. Sixty percent of the robberies occur on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.
Question and Answer
For you to formulate a proper response to convenience store robberies, you must accurately determine the scope of the problem. Through the assistance of a Chamber of Commerce, local business organizations, or by interviewing each convenience store owner individually, you can find the answers to the following questions. How many convenience store robberies have occurred? Have there been attempted robberies that were not reported? Why would a store owner not report an attempted robbery? During a robbery, were weapons used? What was the average amount of money taken during each robbery?
In obtaining answers to these brief questions, you will have a better idea of how serious your problem is.
The hours when convenience store robberies are committed dictate that a street officer, not a detective, will likely be the first investigator at a scene. Your agency should provide you with specific questions you should ask in response to a convenience store robbery. The following is a good starting point.
Did the robbery appear to be the well-planned work of experienced criminals? Or did it seem to be a disorganized, ad hoc robbery committed by an amateur? Did the offender seem familiar with the layout of the store? Was the offender intoxicated? Did the offender leave the scene on foot or by vehicle? As most robberies are committed near the offender's home, was the employee familiar with the actor?
Neither you nor convenience stores are helpless in fighting these robberies. Convenience store giant 7-Eleven Inc. implemented security measures that the company claims reduced robberies by more than 70 percent in 20 years. You should encourage local convenience stores to take similar proactive measures to reduce robberies.
The first thing stores should be encouraged to do is to maximize natural surveillance. This can be accomplished by removing advertisements from the windows. Stores should be encouraged to use low-profile ads to give employees a view of who is in the parking lot and who is entering the store. It will also allow for information to be collected about the type of vehicle the offender uses as well as registration information and direction of travel.
If a convenience store is located adjacent to a high crime area, the store or the city should be encouraged to put up fences or shrubbery that will impede any escape effort. By eliminating an easy get away path, the store will reduce its appeal as a target.
Encourage the store to promote legitimate activity. Offering discounts can be an enticement to draw good citizens to the store. Discounts can be given to people in bowling leagues, fans leaving sporting events, or municipal workers working overnight. This will increase the flow of non-criminal shoppers during vulnerable hours. Items such as rolling papers that are associated with illegal activities should be removed from a store's inventory.
The convenience store may want to enhance its uniformed police presence by providing an area where you can work on reports. A small desk with a telephone and a small file of reports are all that is needed to create a mini substation in a convenience store. This encourages street officers to come in off the road and complete police business while providing a visual deterrent to potential robbers. As officers are constantly coming and going, a potential robber will not be able to select a good time to commit the crime.
Another positive step the convenience store can take is to limit the amount of cash in the register. One 10-year study concluded that 80 percent of potential robbers are deterred if the store limits the amount of money in the cash register. The store employees can frequently move the money from the register to a safe. The cash register and the safe can be placed in areas where natural surveillance is maximized. A sign can be posted explaining that the register never has more than $50 in cash.
You can also provide training to the convenience store employees. Though national chains like 7-Eleven tend to train their employees, smaller "mom and pop" stores usually do not. The key to the training is to inform employees to not resist and to take steps to be good witnesses. Departments that want to implement a training program can be guided by the Edmonton, Alberta, Police Department in Canada, which put together a Robbery Awareness Education Kit (Alberta Minister's Committee to Promote Health and Safety, 2000).
Employees can be trained to cooperate with offenders and follow instructions. The employees should remain calm and quiet and not make any sudden moves. They should not attack or provoke the robber and should remain in the store. All the time the employee should make mental notes about the robber's height, weight, age, race, speech pattern, etc. The store should be encouraged to put a height strip near the door so the employee can get an accurate height reading with just a glance. All this information should be written down as soon as possible after the robbery and provided to the police as quickly as possible.
The attributes that make convenience stores so popular with consumers also make them popular with robbers. The robberies occur so fast it is unlikely that any department can respond in time to intercept a robbery in progress. What you can do is take proactive steps to make each convenience store a less attractive target and provide training to the employees to help them stay alive and become good witnesses.
Det. Joseph Petrocelli is a 20-year veteran of New Jersey law enforcement. He can be contacted through SAFECOPS.com.