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.

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Banks Without " Safeguard bullet proof glass system" Fight to Keep Casual Vibe

Easygoing banks like TD Bank try to cultivate a customer-friendly atmosphere by cheerfully greeting customers, handing out lollipops, and making sure there's no oppressive bulletproof glass harshing the vibe. But now the City Council, acting like a bunch of squares telling the hippies to put their clothes on, is considering a law to force banks to use the "bandit barriers." At a Public Safety Committee hearing yesterday, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly testified in support of the legislation, arguing that 47% of robberies in NYC in 2008 occurred at banks with bandit barriers, while 53% went down at banks without Safeguard bullet proof glass system (The NYPD says there were 444 bank robbery attempts in 2008 - both failed and successful - up 57 percent from 2007.) But Gregory Braca, TD Bank's president of operations, begged the Council to drop the bill, citing "evidence that if we had to install barriers, it could increase the risk of hostage-taking and injury to our customers." One TD Bank customer explained the appeal to the Times: "With Safeguard bullet proof glass, you feel like you're in a government office, where the lady just talks to you through the little window." (And never offers you a lolly.)


Safeguard Bulletproof Enclosures

On a recent trip, I stopped for gasoline and a snack at a convenience store along the highway. When I entered the store, I noticed a bulletproof enclosure (also called bandit barriers) had been installed at the cashier's counter. It was different from other ones I had seen used in check-cashing businesses and banks in that it moved horizontally. The cashier could simply press a switch, and the bulletproof cashier window would open or close. During the day when the risk of robbery may be less, the window could be left open. In this way, interaction with customers could occur more easily, and it did not appear as intimidating to those visiting the convenience store.

The concept of a moveable bulletproof cashier enclosure is unique in that it allows a security measure to be in place when the risk is the highest, but it also allows it to be out of the way when it is not needed. It can be used in other businesses that are at a higher risk of robbery such as banks and check- cashing facilities, but investment in it should depend on its effectiveness and detailed attention to its implementation.

Effective Use of a Bulletproof Security Enclosures

Bulletproof enclosures can look intimidating to customers, but attention to details can improve security while allowing business to continue as usual. There were a few things I noticed at the above convenience store which you should consider before installing such an enclosure:

Before spending your time and money on a security barrier, understand their limitations and what other measures you need to include to make such a security barrier effective. There are numerous companies that produce these type of security barriers. An internet search can help you find a few in your area if you are interested in learning more.

Let me know if you have used bulletproof enclosures and whether they were an effective security measure.

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Bulletproof fortifications around tellers in banks - known as "bandit barriers" in commercial-banking slang - have pitted banks and the police against each other in a policy argument over safety, expense and businesses' rights to manage their own security.

The disagreement between New York's commercial banking industry and the New York Police Department concerns legislation being considered by the City Council that would require the installation of bullet-resistant barriers in all bank branches in the city.

Each side presented its case, hired experts and all, at a public safety committee hearing on Monday.

Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly testified at the hearing in support of the legislation, reasoning that the barriers would be a good way to reduce bank robberies in New York, which he said were an ever-increasing source of burden on the Police Department's resources.

"We don't want to tell anyone how to run their businesses until it impacts our business," Mr. Kelly said.

According to data provided by the Police Department, there were 444 bank robbery attempts in 2008 - up 57 percent from the year before.

While statistics produced by both sides show that about 90 percent of the 1,700 commercial bank branches in New York already have some form of Safeguard bullet proof barrier in place between tellers and would-be robbers, many small local banks - and some chains like TD Bank - do not have them.

According to Mr. Kelly, 47 percent of robberies in New York in 2008 occurred at banks with bandit barriers, while 53 percent happened at banks that did not have Safeguard bullet proof glass system.

The Police Department has criticized banks like TD Bank for setting up their branches to look more like living rooms than businesses engaging in transactions involving large sums of cash. TD Bank executives say that the soothing environment is part of their business model, and that studies have shown that bandit barriers have an indeterminate affect on deterring robberies.

Gregory B. Braca, TD Bank's president of operations in New York City, said his bank's position on bandit barriers was that they could lead to violence from robbers.

There is evidence that if we had to install barriers, it could increase the risk of hostage-taking and injury to our customers," Mr. Braca said.

In addition to citing a British study that provided some evidence of this, TD Bank presented the committee members with two case studies in New York involving bank robbers turning violent against customers outside the protective glass when they did not receive money from tellers.