There are a few dangerous realities of owning a business. The greatest is perhaps the threat of armed robbery. In the U.S. alone, a commercial robbery is committed every four minutes — or about 100,000 robberies each year. That’s why robbery prevention is so important.
Armed robbery is different from burglary and theft because it isn’t a crime against property, it’s one against people. And though many robberies don’t result in injury to the victims, that’s more often due to luck than planning.
A robbery prevention strategy can help your business reduce the likelihood of falling victim. And knowing what to do if your business does get robbed, could save employee and customer lives.
Greet customers and make direct eye contact.
Greeting customers as they enter your store doesn’t just improve customer service — it sends a message to any person entering the store that they have been recognized.
Be cautious about answering probing questions.
Inquiries relating to opening and closing times are to be expected, but questions or phone calls about your facility’s alarm system or how many employees are on duty at any given time? Those should raise some red flags, and politely refusing to give that kind of information is a reasonable and smart way to handle the situation.
Maintain visibility throughout the store.
Make sure to provide as much visibility as possible, allowing people outside to see inside the store. This effort alone may deter some potential robbers. One of the biggest obstructions to maintaining a clear field of vision is bad lighting. Interior lighting should be bright enough to allow people outside your business to see people inside.
Be sure to assess your lighting and the visibility it provides both day and night, and replace burned out bulbs promptly. Eliminate any dark areas around your building and parking lots by installing motion sensors that flood an area with light when motion is detected. Lighting is only part of the equation. There should be visibility from the register area to the street at all times.
So, be mindful to avoid hanging signs or putting displays on windows or around the sales counter that can obstruct the view of the register. In areas that are blocked by shelving or walls, hang concave mirrors to eliminate any blind spots.
Develop a cash control program.
Robbers are in it for the cash. And while casing the store, they’ll be looking to see if you have large bills in the register. That’s why a low cash policy is so important to robbery prevention. A good way to help deter a robbery is by keeping the smallest amount of cash on the premises as possible and be sure to post a notice to that effect that is visible to customers.
Be discreet in cash counting and bank deposits.
The availability of large quantities of cash are too attractive to resist. Don’t invite a robbery by carelessly handling money in the store. Be discreet when counting large amounts of cash or preparing a bank deposit — ideally, in the back room while another employee handles the register out front, or when there are no customers in the store.
Depending on your business, you might opt to make bank deposits using an armored car service. If this isn’t an option for you, be sure to vary both your routes to the bank, as well as your times of deposit. And take a second person along whenever possible. Don’t be obvious about going to the bank. Leave your uniform, apron, or name tag behind when you make a deposit, and do what you can to obscure the money by hiding it a paper lunch bag, a plastic sandwich container, a backpack, or shopping bag. Try to avoid depositing at night, if possible.
Take precautions during opening and closing.
Always have two employees present when opening up the business for the day. Start with a visual check of the entire store before starting your daily opening routine to make sure nothing is out of the ordinary. And at closing, have employees check all back rooms, restrooms, and closets to ensure that no one remains in the store. The person in charge of the store should have the only keys to the side and back doors, and they should keep them locked at all times to prevent undetected entry.
Invest in a security alarm system.
Arming your facility with a business security system is an excellent deterrent of would-be robbers.
Business security systems are monitored 24/7 by an alarm company, who immediately notifies the police when activated.
These systems offer solutions that are customizable for any business — from retail to mechanical, or clinical to food & beverage products. Seek professional guidance to get the best security system for your business needs.And consider installing security cameras, too. They not only work as a robbery prevention tactic, but can also help with identifying a robber after the robbery has been committed.
Lastly, if an alarm system is in use at your business, clearly post security signs and stickers on points of entry.
Train your employees.
No matter how safe the inside and outside of your business may seem, managers and employees must be trained in robbery prevention. Training your personnel and periodically refreshing them on robbery deterrence procedures can curb robbery — and, perhaps more importantly, it can teach them to react calmly and quickly in the event a robbery does occur.
What You Should Do During a Robbery
What you or your employees do during a robbery can have a tremendous impact on the outcome of the situation. That’s why it’s vital to remember a few important tips.
- Stay calm.
It may seem slightly unreasonable to expect anyone to remain calm in a robbery situation, but bringing undue attention to the situation could cause panic and endanger lives.
Keep in mind, most robbers aren’t looking to harm their victims — they’re only interested in getting money or property. And they’re nervous. So, the calmer you are, the less chance there is of the robber becoming agitated or dangerous.
Again, robbers are only interested in your money or property, and they seldom hurt people who are willing to cooperate. So, give them what they want and do it quickly.
Handle the entire situation as if you were with a customer — don’t delay them in any way. Slowing down your actions in the hope that the police will arrive only endangers lives. DO NOT argue, fight, surprise, or attempt to use weapons against a robber. This is not the time for heroics. And additional provocation on your part could make the situation worse. If you have to move, tell the robber what you are doing and why. And let them about any possible surprises, such as a second employee who is working in a back room, or if you are expecting company soon. That said, follow the robber’s directions exactly, but don’t volunteer any extra information about things like hidden cash or additional valuables.
- Remain observant.
The best defense is being observant. Try to gather as much information as possible; often, it’s the details that are the greatest help to the police. Be systematic in your observations. Mentally note the racial origin, sex, age, height, weight, hair color, eye color, and any other defining characteristics that could be used to identify a suspect (i.e. tattoos, scars). Sometimes, it can help to compare the robber with yourself. (Is he or she taller, heavier, older, etc.?)
Take note of the disguise used, and if there is a weapon, glance at it only long enough to identify it. Look at the robber from then on. Try to discreetly observe the robber’s hands. If the robber is not wearing any gloves, anything they touch might leave behind identifiable fingerprints. And if it can be done safely, try to observe the direction the robber takes when leaving the scene. Where a vehicle is involved, concentrate on the make, model, year, color, license plate number, and issuing state.
- Be careful engaging a silent alarm.
If your business has a silent or duress alarm, do not activate it during a robbery unless the situation is life-threatening. And even then, you should only activate it when you are confident you can do so without detection. Don’t take any chances. Property isn’t more valuable than lives.
In the Aftermath of a Robbery
When the robber leaves, staff should not attempt to follow after them. Instead, they should immediately lock all the doors, and call the police. Even if you have already activated an alarm, you should still call the police.
Have everyone move to the back of the building and wait for the police to arrive — making sure to leave everything just as it is. Don’t try to clean up or touch anything the robber has touched. You may smudge a fingerprint.
While you wait for the police, take time to document what just occurred, including the time the robbery took place, what was stolen, and a description of the robber. Write down everything you can think of while it’s still fresh in your mind, including the robber’s speech and mannerisms.
If there are any witnesses, ask them to write down their account of the robbery, including suspect information. Do not compare notes. People observe things in different ways, so what you might notice, another person may not, and vice versa. Comparing notes could cause memories to be skewed.
Ask witnesses to stay until an officer arrives. If unable to do so, write down their names, addresses, and phone numbers.