Houston Aims to Curb C-Store Crime

A sweeping retail reform ordinance has been proposed in Houston that would require all convenience store owners to register their businesses with the city and install cameras, drop safes and panic buttons. The proposal is now headed to the City Council for a vote in the coming weeks.

The council’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee said the proposed ordinance is aimed at controlling crime at hundreds of convenience stores across the city. It could be adopted within a month, The Houston Chronicle reported.

Retailers are supporting the regulations. "This is a giant leap," Zaf Tahir, a Houston convenience store owner and chair of Mayor Bill White’s Task Force on Convenience Store Security, told The Chronicle. "Now, we have this industry on a path to a very safe and secure environment."

But Tahir added that the regulations are not a substitute for more police patrols. "It’s not going to fix all of the problems," he said. "This ordinance takes care of the training and of things that can be done at the stores. … It needs to be coupled with increased presence of law enforcement."

On average, about 1,000 robberies and 10 homicides occur at convenience stores every year, according to Assistant Police Chief John Trevino.

The proposed ordinance would require convenience stores to register with the city to establish a database. Right now, the city does not know how many convenience stores are in Houston, Tahir said. The proposal also would require stores to have a minimum of two color digital surveillance cameras, a drop safe for cash deposits and a panic button that alerts a security company or police to a crime in progress.

Store owners would have to spend an average of $1,400 for those items, Trevino said. They would have until 2010 to comply. Other rules that would go into effect within three months of the ordinance’s adoption:
* Training: Currently, employee safety instruction consists of viewing a 10-minute DVD provided by the Houston Police Department.

* Signage: "No loitering" and "No trespassing" signs posted on doors and walls, and "height strips" placed on doors, so a clerk can estimate a retreating robber’s height for later identification to police.

*Visibility: Police or passers-by should be able to see the cash register from outside. Obstructions must be removed from windows and doors.

Robberies in convenience stores or their parking lots account for about 8% of all robberies in the city and some 3% of all homicides, Trevino said.

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