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Robbery of Convenience Stores

Guide No. 49 (2007)

by Alicia Altizio & Diana York

The Problem of Robbery of Convenience Stores

What This Guide Does and Does Not Cover

This guide begins by describing the problem of convenience store robbery and reviewing factors that increase its risk. It then identifies a series of questions to help you analyze your local convenience store robbery problem. Finally, it reviews responses to the problem and what is known about these from evaluative research and police practice.

Convenience store robbery is but one aspect of the larger set of problems related to robbery and to commercial establishments. Although all robbery types share some common features, convenience store robbery warrants special attention because convenience stores have special characteristics. Related problems not directly addressed in this guide, each requiring separate analysis, include

Some of these related problems are covered in other guides in this series, all of which are listed at the end of this guide. For the most up-to-date listing of current and future guides, see www.popcenter.org

General Description of the Problem

About Convenience Stores

Convenience stores are “retail business[es] with primary emphasis placed on providing the public a convenient location to quickly purchase from a wide array of consumable products (predominantly food and gasoline) and services.”1 There are over 135,000 convenience stores operating in the United States, and the number continues to grow.† An estimated 100 million Americans visit a convenience store on any given day; each convenience store might serve hundreds, even thousands, of customers daily.2 Over 80 percent of all Americans, because of their busy schedules, prefer convenience stores to supermarkets.3

† The Middle Atlantic States (New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania) led the increase in number of stores (9.8 percent from the previous year), although all U.S. regions experienced an increase within the past year (National Association of Convenience Stores 2005).

Extent of the Problem

Convenience store robberies account for approximately 6 percent of all robberies known to the police.4 Although this comprises a relatively small percentage of total robberies, the problem is persistent. Over the last 30 years, there has been little change in the proportion of convenience store robberies. Nevertheless, convenience stores in particular locations can be vulnerable to repeat victimization, especially those types of retailers that have large amounts of cash, low security, and few staff and customers likely to resist.5

The numbers of U.S. convenience store robberies rose significantly in the 1980s and then declined just as significantly in the 1990s, a reduction that could be due in part to the development of better crime prevention measures in convenience stores,6 many of which are discussed in the Responses section below.

Repeat Victimization†

† See Problem-Solving Tools Guide No. 4, Analyzing Repeat Victimization.

Some stores are repeatedly victimized, either by the same offender or different offenders. Reasons for repeat victimization vary. A successful robber might return to rob the same store again or might tell other robbers about the store. Alternatively, a wide range of robbers might see the store as particularly attractive or vulnerable.† Media accounts may actually play up the vulnerability of the store by reporting successful robberies7 and may glamorize the crime, giving would-be offenders the notion that those that “rob with style” don’t get caught.8

† See the Problem-Solving Tools Guide on Understanding Risky Facilities for further discussion of why some places are more vulnerable to crime than other similar places.

Interviews with convicted robbers revealed that they often selected easy targets assuming that “victims [businesses] will not install preventative measures to stop them.”9 One study of convenience store robbery victims indicates that more than one-half of the respondents reported subsequent changes in store policy or practice after a robbery.10 It was also found that a store was most vulnerable to revictimization within the first few weeks after the first robbery.11

Types of Convenience Store Robbery

Convenience store robberies are classified according to the offender’s method of operation:12

Another perhaps less common type is merchandise robbery,† which involves the forcible taking of goods from a store. A higher number of employee injuries are reported in merchandise robberies, as active resistance and confrontation are more prevalent in these situations.13

† One study by the Ontario Convenience Store Association found that an increase in merchandise robberies at convenience stores between 2001 and 2002 was related to higher cigarette prices, the existence of illicit markets, and the ease of disposal (Inkster Group 2004 [PDF]).

Harms Resulting From Convenience Store Robbery

Physical

Convenience store employees suffer from high rates of workplace homicide, second only to taxicab drivers.† , 14 Customers can also suffer injury from offender assaults. Injuries can result from an employee’s active resistance or from the offender ’s misreading the employee’s nervousness or hesitation as resistance.15 When faced with an employee who chooses to actively resist and is in a face-to-face confrontation, robbers may resort to injuring the worker to avoid apprehension. Higher injury rates are consistently found to be correlated with measures employees take during the robbery.16

† See the Problem-Oriented Policing Guide, Robbery of Taxi Drivers.

Economic

Convenience store robberies are not only costly to the workers victimized but also to the store itself. Costs include loss of customers who may be deterred from shopping at a store that has been robbed, leading to a loss of income from reduced customer sales. Stores can also experience an increase in workers’ compensation costs and insurance premiums due to the robbery. Unfortunately, for those independently owned stores, losses may be unrecoverable, due to the inability of many small operations to afford insurance coverage.17 Stores that do not have insurance coverage may be forced to increase prices or potentially close. Other less direct costs include the various criminal justice activities of state and local governments, including police investigations, prosecutions, and incarceration and supervision of offenders.18

The average cost to employers of a single episode of workplace violence can amount to $250,000 in lost work time and legal expenses.19 Workplace victimizations reportedly contribute to a loss of 3.5 days per employee per crime. Victimization can further limit the ability of these stores to attract and maintain employees for the night shifts, particularly in stores that operate 24 hours a day20 and those with a high volume of cash transactions, a characteristic of such stores. The combination of operational expenses and security challenges can be financially burdensome.21

Psychological

Victim employees can also suffer psychological harm.22 “Secondary victimization ” can occur when employers, managers, employees, or those responding to the robbery fail to acknowledge the victim’s trauma.23 This may result from not believing the victim’s description of the attack, discounting the incident, and blaming or criticizing the victim. Psychological problems resulting from victimization may not only affect the employee’s subsequent workplace performance, but also can affect the store’s daily operations.†

† Most victims’ organizations agree that immediate intervention and support after a victim endures a robbery is beneficial to the victim’s recovery, yet statistics show that of the 86,000 robbery victims (irrespective of location of victimization) in 1991, only 4 percent of the reported robbery victims were treated by mental health care providers (National Center for Victims of Crime 1997).

Factors Contributing to Convenience Store Robbery

Understanding the factors that contribute to convenience store robbery will help you frame your own local analysis questions, determine good effectiveness measures, recognize key intervention points, and select appropriate responses.

Research has identified many factors that influence a robbery’s likelihood or outcome. In some cases, the findings are inconsistent or contradictory. This may be because it can be difficult to interpret studies based on small numbers of stores or difficult to determine if certain store features influenced the robberies, or were changed in response to the robberies.24 The factors generally found to contribute to the incidence of convenience store robberies follow.

Store Characteristics

Operation hours

Operation hours are by far the strongest factor contributing to convenience story robbery, particularly for stores open 24 hours a day.25 Late evening to early morning hours carry a greater risk of being targeted, perhaps because fewer people are about—other customers, police, or passersby—who might intervene.

Interior store layout

Several characteristics of a store’s interior layout can influence its vulnerability to a robbery. Common among these is visibility, from two perspectives. First, employees should be able to see their surroundings, and second, people outside the store, including police on patrol, should be able to see into the store.26 Robbers are deterred by brightly lit stores in which employees and the store’s cash registers are clearly visible from the street.27 The height and placement of store displays and shelving also determine whether there are unobstructed views inside the store.

Exterior store environment

Visibility is also a factor outside the store. Poorly lit gasoline islands and parking lots increase the chances of a robber’s selecting a particular store,28 since employees cannot see what is occurring outside the store. There is also a relationship between parking lot size and store vulnerability in that a large parking area in front of the store reduces the ability of passersby to provide informal surveillance of the store’s interior and exterior.29 The availability of viable escape routes is also a consideration in determining whether or not a store is a prime robbery target. For instance, poorly designed fencing or landscaping can facilitate a robber’s quick flight from the store, thereby making the store a more attractive target.

Location

There may be a relationship between the location and surrounding environment of a convenience store and its risk of becoming a robbery target. For instance, one study found that stores located in shopping complexes or strip malls had fewer robberies than those not in more concentrated commercial settings.30 A study of robberies at service stations and pharmacies produced similar findings.31 According to another study, stores in neighborhoods with older buildings and structures, close to graffiti and subsidized housing, and not located in a shopping center showed an increased risk of robbery.32

Convenience store type

Convenience stores can be distinguished from other retail establishments by the hours they operate, store size, and products sold. Most are open every day until late in the evening, with some open 24 hours a day. Some are corporate franchises, others are independently owned. Single-store businesses that are owned and operated as a one-store business or franchise dominate the market.33

There are generally six convenience store formats. Each is categorized by the size of the store and the products it sells, as shown in Table 1 below.34

Table 1: Convenience Store Types
Type Size Typical Products Parking

Kiosk

< 800 sq. ft.

Gasoline and “fast-moving” items (tobacco, beverages, snacks, and confectioneries)

Usually only at the pumps

Mini

800 to 1200 sq. ft.

Limited grocery selection (predominantly prepared sandwiches)

At the pumps and some with striped parking

Limited selection

1,500 to 2,200 sq. ft.

Broader product mix and added prepared foods (hot dogs, nachos, popcorn)

Striped parking (with extended hours)

Traditional

2,400 to 2,500 sq. ft.

Expanded product mix (including dairy, bakery, snack foods, and beverages)

Six to 12 parking spaces and pedestrian access

Expanded

2,800 to 3,600 sq. ft.

Traditional product mix

10 to 20 marked parking spaces

Hyper

4,000 to 5,000 sq. ft.

Can include a bakery, restaurant area, or a pharmacy

Multiple parking spaces (usually larger than the expanded store)

Risk of robbery based on a variety of administrative and environmental factors has been proposed. For instance, stores with gas pumps, sometimes referred to as convenience gas stations, are less likely to be robbed than stores without pumps.35 Another study has found that independent stores less than two years old were at higher risk for robbery than older stores that are company owned and operated.36

Ownership

The security and crime prevention measures convenience store owners employ vary considerably with the type and structure of ownership. 7-Eleven, Inc. has its own security department, policies, and employee crime-prevention training program.37 A “mom and pop” owned establishment would likely have very few resources and less access to current techniques.

Staff number

Several studies have evaluated the presence of two or more clerks to reduce the risk of robbery. The findings have been inconsistent, and are highly debated.38 The 1986 Gainesville, Fla., studies concluded that the number of clerks on duty was a strong predictor of robbery potential.39 However, a review of convenience store robberies by the National Association of Convenience Stores in 1997 did not support this conclusion.40

Cash-control procedures

The handling and storage of cash has a significant influence on the targeting of stores for robbery. The Athena Research Corp. studies of armed robbers in 1985 and 1995 have shown that “80 percent of potential robbers can be deterred if a convenience store limits the amount of money kept in its cash register.”41 There are a number of cash-control units available to retailers that have both a drop safe and money dispenser, with various access methods. Again, both the ability to purchase such units and the implementation of strict cash protocol depend on the ownership type and structure.

Cashier Cannot Access SafeA strict cash control protocol can significantly reduce the chances a store will be targeted by potential robbers.

Incident response policies

Employers’ policies, particularly about firearms in the workplace,† and various administrative and environmental measures† have an impact on workplace violence and homicide rates.42 Furthermore, the combination of inexperienced employees and inadequate training procedures can contribute to higher victimization rates.43 One multistate study found that clerks’ behavior might be the most significant factor in determining the extent of injuries during a robbery.44 For instance, injury can be caused by two different offender assaults: the blitz attack, which catches the victim by surprise and is unprovoked by the victim or another, and the response to perceived resistance, which can result from either misreading the employee’s nervousness as resistance, or wanting to get in and out of the store as quickly as possible.45 Employees can, in turn, employ certain behavior to keep themselves safe. This includes following the offender’s instructions, staying calm and quiet, avoiding eye contact, not making any sudden movements, remaining inside the workplace, not attacking the offender, while making mental notes to provide to the police regarding the offender’s physical description.46

† One study found that there was approximately a “sevenfold increase in the risk of a worker being killed in workplaces that allowed guns,” implying that workplaces that respond to a prior experience with crime by allowing firearms may actually be creating a greater risk for workplace homicide by allowing weapons on the premises (Loomis, Marshall, and Ta 2005).

†† Although some researchers believe that limiting cash on hand to less than $100 could reduce robbery risk and injury rates, other research has found that limiting cash and escape routes can force a robber to take greater risks, thereby potentially increasing employee injury rates. Other suggestions include installing a visible drop safe to allow for natural surveillance throughout the store (Faulkner, Landsittel, and Hendricks 2001).

Offender Characteristics

Like robbers in general, most convenience store robbers are male (95 percent) with about two-thirds of them under the age of 25.47 They are often impulsive and opportunistic, and do limited planning before attempting the actual robbery. Most are seeking quick cash, often to buy drugs. A high proportion report that they were under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs while committing the robbery.48

Serial robbers, particularly those that victimize the same location on more than one occasion, appear to be more professional, even determined, in their approach. They are significantly more likely to carry a gun, to have been in prison before, to wear a disguise, and to choose a specific time for the robbery. They are also more likely to be violent, and cause a higher rate of employee injury.49 Their robberies display distinct geographical patterns over time.50

Since it has been found that certain stores are more vulnerable to repeat victimization, we can conclude that robbers are selecting those stores because of the opportunities they offer for successful completion of a robbery.51 Offenders prefer areas in or near their neighborhoods, thus increasing the risk for those stores in areas where many offenders live.52 However, many factors may affect offender decisions. For example, since offenders commonly use guns in convenience store robberies, some offenders looking for quick cash may think that a weapon overcomes any other obstacles to carrying out the crime. Novice offenders might be less likely to differentiate between low-risk and high-risk targets.53 Robbers commonly consider escape routes an important factor in selecting a target. 54

Time Patterns

To limit the risk of apprehension, robbery offenders generally operate at night, when concealment is more likely. Convenience store robberies have been found to be consistent with this time pattern. One study of robberies in 30 Leon County, Fla., convenience stores over a four-year period found significant correlations not only to time but also to day of the week, and month. Fifty percent occurred between 10 p.m. and 12 a.m., generally times when business traffic is minimal. Three days (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) accounted for 60 percent of the robberies. More than 50 percent occurred between November and February, consistent with findings that property crimes occur more frequently during winter months.55

Understanding Your Local Problem

The information provided above is only a generalized description of convenience store robbery. You must combine the basic facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem. Analyzing the local problem carefully will help you design a more effective response strategy.

Your analysis should examine the different risks evident in the stores, and be particularly focused on repeat victimization. Gathering information is labor-intensive and detailed. The more standardized your department’s information-gathering process, the more opportunity you have to understand your robbery problem and reach conclusions.

Stakeholders

In addition to criminal justice agencies, the following groups have an interest in the convenience- store robbery problem and should be considered for the contribution they might make to gathering information about the problem and responding to it:

Asking the Right Questions

The following are some critical questions you should ask in analyzing your particular problem of convenience store robbery, even if the answers are not always readily available. Your answers to these and other questions will help you choose the most appropriate set of responses later on.

Since environmental details are particularly relevant to this type of crime, it is important to listen carefully to victims’ description of the robbery. You can collect pertinent information by asking victims incisive questions about the setting and circumstances of the crime.

It is also crucial to interview as many apprehended offenders as possible. to find out how they make their decisions. See Problem-Solving Tools Guide No. 3, Using Offender Interviews to Inform Police Problem-Solving, for further guidance on gathering information from offenders.

Offenses

Offenders

Targets

Locations/Times

Current Responses

Measuring Your Effectiveness

Measurement allows you to determine to what degree your efforts have succeeded, and suggests how you might modify your responses if they are not producing the intended results. You should take measures of your problem before you implement responses, to determine how serious the problem is, and after you implement them, to determine whether they have been effective. All measures should be taken in both the target area and the surrounding area. For more detailed guidance on measuring effectiveness, see the Problem-Solving Tools Guide, Assessing Responses to Problems: An Introductory Guide for Police Problem-Solvers.

The following outcome measures can be useful in assessing whether your responses have impacted the convenience store robbery problem:

In addition, the following process measures might provide some indication of the degree to which selected responses are being properly implemented:

Responses to the Problem of Robbery of Convenience Stores

Analysis of your local problem should give you a better understanding of the factors contributing to it. Once you have analyzed your local problem and established a baseline for measuring effectiveness, you should then consider possible responses to address the problem.

The following response strategies provide a foundation of ideas for addressing your particular problem. These strategies are drawn from a variety of research studies and police reports. Several of these strategies may apply to your community’s problem. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem. Do not limit yourself to considering what police can do: give careful consideration to who else in your community shares responsibility for the problem and can help police better respond to it. The responsibility of responding, in some cases, may need to be shifted toward those who have the capacity to implement more effective responses. (For more detailed information on shifting and sharing responsibility, see Response Guide No. 3, Shifting and Sharing Responsibility for Public Safety Problems).

General Considerations for an Effective Response Strategy

  1. Understanding the ownership, management structure, and operations of local convenience stores. To build and sustain a working relationship with the stores in your locality, you must have this understanding. Chain stores may have in-house security departments and specific protocols for crime prevention. This may enhance a cooperative effort to prevent robberies, but individual store managers may not have the authority to directly implement certain measures. Single-owner establishments will be generally unrestricted in their potential responses or partnership with the police, but will have fewer resources to devote to security and crime prevention. The convenience store industry as a whole may not support all police recommendations for security measures.

    Understanding the operations, community context, and interpersonal dynamics of these businesses allows you to more effectively implement the specific responses below. For example, a sole owner who has used a weapon to scare a would-be robber may require a different approach and response than the store that employs 18-year-olds with little experience for late-night shifts.

  2. Collaborating with private security. Creating structures and programs that encourage routine collaboration between police and private security can facilitate convenience store robbery prevention.57, † Police might coordinate or facilitate convenience stores’ adoption of specialized robbery prevention concepts and programs. For example, police might promote the application of the principles and methods of crime prevention through environmental design, which aims to reduce crime by controlling the retail business environment through natural surveillance, access control, and boundary definition.58,†† Although implementing the specific measures would primarily be the retailer’s responsibility (see retailer responses below), models such as this can be integrated into a local police or private security crime prevention strategy.

    † See Problem-Solving Tools Guide No. 5, Partnering With Businesses to Address Public Safety Problems and such Problem-Specific Guides as Shoplifting and Robbery of ATMs for further information on police-private security collaboration.

    †† See the Problem-Solving Tools guide on Using Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design in Problem-Solving for further information.

  3. Targeting repeat victims. Certain convenience stores in your locality are more likely to be robbed than others.† When the concentration of crimes at a few places is relatively stable over time, it is likely that something about those few places facilitates crimes and something about most places that prevents crimes.59 A study of police responses to armed robbery by the U.K. Home Office found that there is a period of time after an incident (up to three months) when the target is most vulnerable to a repeat attack. Swift analysis and follow-up to robberies is important to limit or minimize the chance of repeat robberies, and responding to repeat victimization is effective in a number of ways. These include identifying the vulnerabilities of a given target, thereby assisting in the protection of likely targets from future robberies.60,††

    † This is the so-called “80/20” rule: that crime tends to be heavily concentrated in a relatively small percentage of places, against a relatively small percentage of victims, and by a relatively small percentage of offenders. See Crime Analysis for Problem-Solvers (Clarke and Eck 2005).

    †† A given store’s vulnerability can unfortunately result from media accounts of a successful robbery, absent any publicity of increased security measures. Incarcerated robbers believe that a victimized business will not install preventive measures (Gill and Pease 1998).

  4. Reevaluating responses consistently. Responses to convenience store robberies may not always withstand changing times and circumstances. One study of convenience store robberies in Tallahassee was reexamined to identify changes, if any, in a number of environmental and other factors that influenced their robberies. The follow- up study found that several high robbery-risk stores had experienced declines, and some low-risk stores had considerable increases. The researchers concluded that “robbery prevention strategies lose their effectiveness over time and must be constantly upgraded.”61 You should review robbery prevention strategies periodically, modifying them as appropriate to respond to offenders who consistently test the limits of measures in place.

Specific Responses To Reduce Convenience Store Robbery

 

Retailer Responses

The following responses are rooted in situational crime prevention.62,† These responses are voluntary in some jurisdictions and mandated by law in others. Legislation requiring the implementation of security measures may affect the likelihood of convenience store robberies.††

† For further information on situational crime prevention techniques, see www.popcenter.org/25techniques.htm.

†† In April 1998, OSHA issued its Recommendations for Workplace Violence Prevention Programs in Late-Night Retail Establishments, marking the first time it explicitly sanctioned specific retail crime prevention measures. Additional information on OSHA recommendations [PDF].

7-Eleven, Inc. implemented many of these measures, maintaining that their implementation contributed to a 70 percent reduction in robberies over 20 years.63 Local governments should ensure that their licensing and permitting regulations and procedures do not discourage sensible crime prevention measures.†

† In a study of convenience stores in Austin, Texas, it was found that the process of installing brighter or additional lighting in store lots could be burdensome. It involves hiring an electrical technician, preparing estimates, and obtaining a permit (LaVigne 1994 [PDF]).

  1. An unobstructed view of the entrance and interior of the store provides natural surveillance that increases the risk of apprehension for the offender.

    An unobstructed view of the entrance and interior of the store provides natural surveillance that increases the risk of apprehension for the offender.

    Maximizing natural surveillance. Employees should have an optimal view of the entrance and interior of the store. This involves having adequate interior and exterior lighting, unobstructed views into the store, and strategic placement of the cash register. Sandwich boards or unobtrusive banners are preferable to window signage if local regulation permits such.64 Low-profile display units allow clearer customer observation. Natural surveillance of safes is also desirable.† This measure increases the risk of apprehending the offender.

    † The Starbucks chain implemented a security model that includes moving the store safe to the street-front sales area, taking advantage of natural surveillance from the glass windows (D’Addario 2001).

  2. Having multiple employees on duty during high-risk periods. The state of Florida, in its Convenience Business Security Act of 1992, has mandated businesses that remain open between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. to use at least one of the following security measures: two or more employees, bullet-resistant safety enclosures, a security guard, or a pass-through window to conduct business. Since implementation, convenience store robbery rates in Florida have dropped significantly.65 New Mexico’s Environmental Improvement Board also passed regulations for stores open between 5 p.m. and 5 a.m. These include either keeping two employees on duty, or using alternative precautions (like bullet-resistant glass) to protect the employee.† Aside from expense, such a measure’s effectiveness has been questioned in a number of studies. For instance, environmental changes may have influenced the studies with a positive finding.66 Also debated is the concern that multiple clerks could put more staff in danger in the event of a robbery. Mandating additional staffing is controversial, and careful consideration by public policymakers, as well as business leaders, must be made to weigh its potential for robbery deterrence against its financial impact.

    † A state industry association has appealed the regulations, maintaining that they may be too expensive for businesses (Neary 2004).

  3. Controlling access. This element accounts for the number of entrances, the door type(s) and placement(s), and the internal environment’s design. A consistent finding of studies that interview convenience store robbers is that escape routes are a key factor to their target selection. Eliminating or at least limiting potential escape routes by using fencing or landscaping is highly recommended. 7-Eleven, Inc. found that it could effectively use fences to block alleys that would lead to crowded neighborhoods, and bushes to limit other footpaths that might provide an easy getaway.67 Avoiding the use of concealed access or escape routes is also recommended. This measure increases the potential offenders’ effort.
  4. Establishing territoriality. The store’s location within the community, area traffic flow, signs and advertisements, and design elements that empower the employee (such as bulletproof barriers) are components of this element. Although a retailer is not likely to change the store location, being aware of the neighborhood’s patterns and characteristics allows the store to tailor its controllable environment.† For instance, stores in high-crime areas should discourage loitering by the lighting and design of the exterior and parking area.

    † Offender interviews have found that their decisions on choosing a target are strongly influenced by the proximity of the store to major and minor roads, and the proximity to a police station, among others (Wellford, MacDonald, and Weiss 1997 [PDF]).

  5. Promoting legitimate activity. Activities designed to increase the presence of legitimate customers and encourage good customer behavior also increase the risk to offenders by essentially extending guardianship of the location. Offering free coffee, for instance, could be used to invite legitimate late-night traffic.68,† This is chiefly important for convenience stores that do not have the increased traffic and visibility of those with gas pumps. Conversely, discouraging stores from attracting disreputable customers—for example, by selling products commonly used in the illegal drug trade—can reduce the routine presence of potential offenders in the store.

    † Some convenience stores offer free coffee or food to police officers to encourage them to stop in more often, but many police departments prohibit officers from accepting such offers.

  6. Training employees. Small operations may benefit greatly from training and advice offered by the police. Management of larger stores should offer training programs for new employees.† Training should include how to behave during a robbery and how to avoid violence. By encouraging simple practices in demeanor—greeting customers and establishing eye contact—clerks can learn to “put robbers on stage.”69 One comprehensive study of convenience store robberies concludes that “the behavior of clerks may be the most significant factor in determining the extent of injury that results during these robberies.”70

    † 7-Eleven’s training is offered to all employees in a two-day session incorporating presentations, a handbook, and role-playing exercises. Issues covered include robbery deterrence, violence avoidance, loitering, physical assault, gang activity, and general emergency procedures (Lins and Erickson 1998).

  7. Maintaining store appearance. The general appearance of a store indicates the employees’ vigilance. A clean and well-kept store usually means clerks spend time away from the cash registers; a store appearing dirty and disorganized is more likely to be robbed.71
  8. Using cash-control procedures. Cashless transactions are becoming more common throughout society, including at convenience stores.72 Even limiting cash acceptance for certain purchases or at certain times of day might affect a target’s attractiveness. One 10-year study of convenience store robbers found that “80 percent of potential robbers can be deterred if a convenience store limits the amount of money kept in its cash register.”73 There are a number of methods to limit the amount of cash in a store subject to robbery.† One is to limit the amount kept in a register and communicate this policy by posting signs. Keep in mind, however, that a potential offender looking for drug or fast money at the first opportunity may not be dissuaded by signs that state cash on hand is limited.

    † As mentioned previously, some offenders are not dissuaded by the prospect of small amounts of cash. With the popularity of crack cocaine, a cheap drug of choice, offenders are willing to take risks for even small sums (Bellamy 1996).

    In addition, the use of cash-control units (also known as drop safes) can allow secure management of the cash on hand. The units have a safe for clerks to deposit cash periodically, with access controlled by keys and/or personal identification numbers (PINS). The unit opens or dispenses cash on a delay, which is likely to deter an anxious robber.74 It is possible that the lack of availability of cash might result in robbers’ shifting their focus to the taking of merchandise, but if robbers are looking for quick cash such displacement would be unlikely.

  9. Sign reads: "All activities at this location are permanently recorded on video tape and will aid police in the prosecution of all crimes committed at this location."

    The presence of video monitors has been found to have some deterrent affect by increasing the robber’s risk of identification.

    Installing cameras and alarms. This response has received mixed reviews in studies of its effectiveness as a crime prevention technique.† Examples of devices include CCTV or still cameras, and alarm systems with both fixed and remote activator devices. The presence of CCTV monitors, clearly visible near cash registers, as well as signs that state that surveillance equipment is in use, have been found to have some deterrent effect by increasing the robber’s risk of identification.75 Some stores have taken this a step further by using interactive surveillance with central monitoring. New developments in CCTV in the 1990s have resulted in a second generation of systems that is not only superior in technology, but also eliminates deficiencies in surveillance’s human element. For example, digital systems can be programmed to recognize in finite detail any movements that can alert the worker to a potential robbery situation, without the need for human monitoring.76 Both fixed and remote alarm activators have been effective for this workplace environment. 7-Eleven’s alarm system uses telephone lines to transmit signals to a remote monitoring station. Store employees carry alarm activators on their belts or in pockets.77 Although the preventive effect of CCTV is questionable, there is no question that quality images are useful in the identification and apprehension of offenders. This measure can be of significant value, particularly if a gun is used, since nervous clerks may not be able to provide an accurate offender description.††

    † For a further assessment of the effectiveness of CCTV, see Response Guide No.4, Video Surveillance of Public Places.

    †† s Reports from the Hillsborough County, Fla., Sheriff’s Office indicated an almost 90 percent clearance rate for stores equipped with hidden 35 mm cameras (Bellamy 1996).

Police Responses

  1. Providing robbery prevention and awareness training. Police are in a prime position to guide businesses in crime prevention. They are typically the first point of contact after a robbery, and can be particularly helpful to small businesses that may have limited access to other programs and that rely more heavily on police to guide their response. Police can be particularly helpful in training employees to be smart observers and, if necessary, effective witnesses. Suggestions on protocol such as maintaining eye contact with customers (robbers do not want to be identified) and moving away from the sales counter when no one is waiting (robbers will perceive that it will take them longer to demand money from the register) are examples of training tips offered.† Tools such as a height strip can be distributed to mount to the door, giving the employee a means to estimate the height of a fleeing robber.††

    † A police department in Edmonton, Alberta, developed a Robbery Awareness Education Kit to introduce training to retailers (Alberta Minister’s Committee to Promote Health and Safety 2000 [PDF]).

    †† The San Bernardino, Calif., police offer a four-hour training class to businesses on crime prevention. In addition to distributing tools like the height strip, the class also identifies other information retailers should collect during a crime (Berry 2004).

  2. Inspecting convenience stores for compliance with robbery prevention measures. Obviously, robbery prevention recommendations are effective only if properly implemented. Police might assume responsibility for regularly inspecting convenience stores to determine whether they have adopted either mandatory or voluntary robbery prevention measures. In response to an increased trend in robberies, the San Bernardino Police Department implemented the Crime-Free Business Program in 2004. Police community service officers perform periodic inspections of convenience stores and other businesses and evaluate the businesses for their use of crime prevention measures in 28 categories.† Although this particular program and compliance with the inspections are voluntary, the city has seen a reduction in commercial robberies.78

    † Scored categories include such items as visibility into the store, adequate entrance lighting, prominent “No Loitering” signs, and low shelf height.

  3. Enforcing prohibitions against loitering outside convenience stores reduces opportunities for potential robbers to watch the routines of store clerks and customers.

    Enforcing prohibitions against loitering outside convenience stores reduces opportunities for potential robbers to watch the routines of store clerks and customers.

    Enforcing prohibitions on loitering outside convenience stores. Where local law enables police to do so, enforcing prohibitions against loitering outside convenience stores reduces opportunities for potential robbers to plan a robbery by watching the routines of store clerks and customers. Police might enforce loitering or trespassing statutes or ordinances. Laws that prohibit loitering (and panhandling) near ATMs, for instance, give police authority to keep opportunistic offenders away from potential victims.79

Responses With Limited Effectiveness

  1. Conducting robbery stakeouts. Robbery stakeouts have police lie in wait to trap an offender, hiding in a convenience store’s back room or closet. Police departments would need to have considerable resources to be able to sustain the number of officers needed to await possible robberies in various locations over a long time. Moreover, the resultant armed confrontations would heighten risks for police officers and store employees.
  2. Increasing police patrols. Because it takes a relatively short time to complete a convenience store robbery, the chances of thwarting one by increased patrols is not likely. In fact, a number of studies have concluded that increased police patrols are not particularly effective at preventing crime.80 The same is true for apprehending an offender once a robbery is reported; the quick nature of the crime makes immediate response and apprehension unlikely.81
  3. Maintaining a consistent police presence. Although a reliable police presence likely deters any potential crime, it is difficult for most police agencies to ensure a consistent police presence around any particular store, given competing police responsibilities. If a police agency is willing and able to provide a consistent presence in and around convenience stores, there is research evidence that doing so can be effective. Offenders interviewed in one study consistently ranked "people are present" factors, particularly referring to police, higher than certain environmental factors in their target selection.† Crow and Bull’s study of 7-Eleven stores in 1975 encouraged “visits from police” as one prevention strategy to significantly reduce robberies.82 A multistate study of such robberies concluded that improving police presence and response is more critical than the store’s environmental factors.83 In addition, offender interviews have revealed that police presence is the most influential factor in their decision to pick a target.84

    † ‘People are present’ factors include perceived police presence in the area and the proximity (of the store location) to a police station. These ranked as moderately important by the offenders, while window locations, time, lighting, and cashier locations ranked at the bottom of the scale (Petrosino and Brensilber 2003).

  4. Establishing satellite facilities. This takes police presence a step further by making police a more permanent fixture inside convenience stores. This response is more resource-sensitive than most and may not be financially feasible for some police agencies or otherwise justifiable given competing demands for police presence elsewhere in communities.

    7-Eleven, Inc. has established a particular program for its stores called the Police Community Network Centers (PCNCs). They work with local police departments to install either a workstation inside the stores or an office or trailer adjacent to it. It is clearly identified, and includes a dedicated telephone, workspace and storage, and display areas for crime prevention literature.85,†

    † 7-Eleven, Inc. reports that it has received “rave reviews from police organizations and city governments that have participated in the program.” There are currently more than 200 PCNCs in 100 cities in 18 states (7-Eleven, Inc. n.d.).

Summary of Responses

The table below summarizes the responses to convenience store robbery, the mechanism by which they are intended to work, the conditions under which they should work best, and some factors you should consider before implementing a particular response. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem.

General Considerations for an Effective Response Strategy
# Response How It Works Works Best If… Considerations
1 Understanding the ownership, management structure, and operations of local convenience stores Tailors the responses to the stores ’ particular needs and resources …the management structure is clearly defined and information is available to police Independent stores, not tied to rigid commercial guidelines, may not have the financial backing to implement security changes; industry associations may oppose recommendations
2 Collaborating with private security Enhances likelihood that effective responses will be implemented …police and private security recognize their respective legitimate interests Well suited for municipalities with large number of retailers
3 Targeting repeat victims Focuses attention on highest-risk locations, increasing likelihood of improving protection of those stores …analysis of repeat victimization is timely and accurate Media reports may contribute to repeat victimization by spotlighting a store’s vulnerability
4 Reevaluating responses consistently Refines understanding of past responses and improves future responses …decisionmakers are constantly researching new strategies and are willing to reconsider past responses Stakeholders will advocate a variety of changes based on their respective interests
Specific Responses to Reduce Convenience Store Robbery
Retailer Responses
# Response How It Works Works Best If… Considerations
5 Maximizing natural surveillance Increases robbers’ risk of detection by optimizing visibility of key areas …views into and within the store are unobstructed by signs, displays, etc. Placement of safes and cash register can enhance ability for observation
6 Having multiple employees on duty during high-risk periods Deters potential offenders because they would have more difficulty controlling more than one victim …local robbery patterns clearly identify high-risk periods Increases costs to stores; likely to require legislation due to industry opposition; effectiveness debated
7 Controlling access Limits offenders’ opportunity to escape quickly, which may deter offenders altogether …number of entrances/exits are limited, and exterior environment provides some obstacles to a quick escape Difficult for stores to balance easy access for customers with obstructed access for potential robbers
8 Establishing territoriality Controlling certain store characteristics empowers the employees over would-be robbers by providing a logistical advantage …stores are not located near major roads or high- crime areas; stores are near a police station Not all territorial elements are readily altered
9 Promoting legitimate activity Increases risk of detection by encouraging steady activity among patrons and others …stores operate gas pumps that attract traffic at all hours Free coffee or other promotions can invite late-night traffic; refusing to sell illicit products can reduce presence of potential offenders
10 Training employees A well-trained staff reduces the vulnerability of a business by emphasizing methods of robbery deterrence and violence avoidance …it is required for all employees, with refresher training as needed Costly in time and possibly dollars; attracting workers to convenience stores for any length of time is challenging in itself
11 Maintaining store appearance Deters potential offenders by suggesting that employees are vigilant against robbery …employees spend time away from registers to maintain appearance, thereby hindering a quick robbery Convenience store robbers may not make this rational inference
12 Using cash-control procedures Limiting cash available to clerks can dissuade offenders as well as minimize losses …cash policy is clearly posted Some offenders either don’t trust the posted signs or don’t care if the take is limited
13 Installing cameras and alarms Surveillance and security equipment that are in plain sight to customers may provide deterrence and increase risk of detection …cameras actually record activity, and employees have fixed and remote activator devices to sound alarms Costly; quality of images is key for best value; may aid identification process if eyewitnesses are panicked
Police Responses
# Response How It Works Works Best If… Considerations
14 Providing robbery prevention and awareness training Improves stores’ capacity to prevent and respond appropriately to robberies

…training is based on reliable knowledge and made available to stores that otherwise have limited access to training

Compliance ensures effectiveness; small- operation staff may not have time to attend; gives police familiarity with business and ownership
15 Inspecting convenience stores for compliance with robbery prevention measures Increases likelihood that known effective measures will be implemented …there are meaningful consequences for failure to implement effective measures Standards might be either mandated by law or voluntarily agreed to by the convenience store industry
16 Enforcing prohibitions on loitering outside convenience stores Minimizes opportunities for potential offenders to plan a robbery …stores cooperate with police in enforcement and prosecution Valid laws must be in place
Responses With Limited Effectiveness
# Response How It Works Works Best If… Considerations
17 Conducting robbery stakeouts Increases likelihood of apprehension of offenders in the act …police have specific reliable information about a robbery attempt and safety of store employees can be assured Resource-intensive due to unpredictability of robbery attempts; armed confrontations are risky to police officers and employees
18 Increasing police patrols Periodic observation by police will either deter a robbery situation or result in apprehending an offender …police can target repeat victims or vulnerable days/times Quick nature of convenience store robberies makes the chance of apprehension unlikely
19 Maintaining a consistent police presence Deters potential offenders from attempting a robbery …presence is reliable and well-known to potential offenders Difficult for police to ensure reliable presence, given competing responsibilities
20 Establishing satellite facilities Deters potential offenders through enhanced likelihood of police presence …location/ workspace is clearly identified as police space Depends on resource availability; requires cooperation with store management

Endnotes

[1] National Association of Convenience Stores (2006).

[2] Calvin (n.d.).

[3] Hunter (1999).

[4] U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation (2002). [Full text]

[5] Catalano, Hill, and Long (2001).

[6] Hunter (1999).

[7] Gill and Pease (1998).

[8] Matthews (2002).

[9] Gill and Pease (1998).

[10] Petrosino and Brensilber (1997).

[11] Gill and Pease (1998).

[12] Faulkner, Landsittel, and Hendricks (2001).

[13] Faulkner, Landsittel, and Hendricks (2001).

[14] Welford, MacDonald, and Weiss (1997). [Full text]

[15] Petrosino and Brensilber (1997).

[16] Faulkner, Landsittel, and Hendricks (2001).

[17] Petrosino and Brensilber (1997).

[18] Bellamy (1996).

[19] National Center for Victims of Crime (2000).

[20] Conti (2005).

[21] Lins and Erickson (1998).

[22] National Center for Victims of Crime (1997).

[23] National Center for Victims of Crime (2000).

[24] Eck (1998). [Full text]

[25] Taylor (2002).

[26] U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (1998). [Full text]

[27] Lins and Erickson (1998).

[28] Lins and Erickson (1998).

[29] D’Allessio and Stolzenberg (1990).

[30] Hunter (1999).

[31] Taylor (2002).

[32] Hendricks et al. (1999).

[33] National Association of Convenience Stores (2005).

[34] National Association of Convenience Stores (2006).

[35] Hunter (1990).

[36] Hendricks et al. (1999).

[37] Lins and Erickson (1998).

[38] Eck (1998). [Full text]

[39] Hunter and Jeffery (1997).

[40] Hunter (1999).

[41] Lins and Erickson (1998).

[42] Faulkner, Landsittel, and Hendricks (2001).

[43] Runyan et. al. (2005).

[44] Wellford, MacDonald, and Weiss (1997). [Full text]

[45] Petrosino and Brensilber (1997).

[46] WorkCover New South Wales (2002).[Full text]

[47] Correctional Service of Canada (1995). [Full text]

[48] Petrosino and Brensilber (2003). [Abstract only]

[49] Gill and Pease (1998).

[50] Catalano, Hill, and Long (2001).

[51] Bellamy (1996).

[52] Gabor (1989).

[53] Hunter (1999).

[54] Lins and Erickson (1998).

[55] D’Allessio and Stolzenberg (1990).

[56] Catalano, Hill, and Long (2001).

[57] Casteel et al. (2003).

[58] Casteel and Peek-Asa (2000); Mayhew (2000).

[59] Eck (1998). [Full text]

[60] Matthews (1996). [Full text]

[61] Hunter (1999).

[62] Bellamy (1996).

[63] Lins and Erickson (1998).

[64] LaVigne (1994). [Full text]

[65] Hunter (1999).

[66] Bellamy (1996).

[67] Lins and Erickson (1998).

[68] Hunter (1999)

[69] Bellamy (1996).

[70] Wellford, MacDonald, and Weiss (1997). [Full text]

[71] Bellamy (1996).

[72] Wright and Decker (1997).

[73] Lins and Erickson (1998).

[74] Lins and Erickson (1998).

[75] U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (1998). [Full text]

[76] Surette (2005).

[77] Lins and Erickson (1998).

[78] Berry (2004).

[79] Schreiber (1994).

[80] Bellamy (1996).

[81] Petrosino and Brensilber (1997).

[82] Hunter (1999).

[83] Wellford, MacDonald, and Weiss (1997). [Full text]

[84] Petrosino and Brensilber (2003). [Abstract only]

[85] Lins and Erickson (1998).

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Related POP Projects

Important!

The quality and focus of these submissions vary considerably. With the exception of those submissions selected as winners or finalists, these documents are unedited and are reproduced in the condition in which they were submitted. They may nevertheless contain useful information or may report innovative projects.

Operation Business Education Against Robbery (BEAR), San Diego Police Department, 1998

Raleigh's Robbery Suppression Initiative, Raleigh Police Department, 2009