Security by Force

Convenience store retailers are already dealing with tobacco taxes, PCI deadlines and encroaching competition. Now, if officials in Mesa, Ariz. get their way, operators within the city limits will be forced to invest in security measures aimed at reducing incidents of theft.

The proposed mandate, aimed at convenience stores measuring less than 7,500 square feet, would require units to upgrade security cameras, lock the beer coolers during off-sale hours, increase visibility, meet new outdoor lighting requirements and add safety training for employees, among other measures.

The Arizona Food Marketing Alliance (AFMA) estimates the security requirements would cost retailers, depending on the components they have now, an additional $10,000 per store. What’s more, as the proposal is written now, all stores would have only about six months to comply.

“Our position is convenience stores are really suffering and have been hit harder than most by the economy, especially here in Arizona. It makes it difficult for them to spend the money necessary to comply with an ordinance when most of them don’t even have a real problem with security,” said AFMA President Tim McCabe. While Mesa contains over 100 c-stores, the majority of problems exist in just 10-12 locations, he added.

Retailer reaction to the ordinance has, as one might expect, not been favorable. “We feel an ordinance is not necessary to impose against all stores if the problem exists in just a small number of stores,” McCabe said. “What we’re proposing is we want to continue to work with the chief of police and his team to find solutions to help the problem in the small amount of stores creating the majority of the issue.”

As for security cameras, “almost every convenience store already has security cameras of different sorts, but the city wants certain types of cameras that store images for 30 days, and that’s not realistic,” McCabe noted. 

The city council is moving the ordinance forward, as AMFA continues to work with the city council and the police department to tweak the requirements. While the ordinance does state that each individual store can be evaluated on a case by case basis, AMFA hopes for clear guidelines that do not require significant interpretation.

The Bigger Picture
Such ordinances are nothing new. A number of cities across the country have adopted them, and on the state level Florida, Washington and New Mexico all have c-store ordinances to reduce robbery, while other states have attempted but not passed similar mandates, said Dr. Rosemary Erickson, president of Athena Research Corp. Her book Armed Robbers and Their Crimes is used by security managers nationwide in planning programs for security.

“What I have recommended to the industry and government is if you’re going to legislate something, it must be based on science and research and not something people just think will be effective,” Erickson said.

Scientifically validated measures to reduce robbery include keeping low amounts of cash in the register, and posting signs stating that the cash is limited; ensuring good visibility by keeping windows clear of merchandise and signage; maintaining good lighting inside and outside the store; limiting access and escape routes; and training employees in proper behavior during and after a robbery.

Measures not validated include employing two clerks at night, which Erickson said has been shown by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to be ineffective; using bullet resistant shields at the counter, which could protect employees but does nothing for customers or deterring crime; and employing guards or off duty police officers, which can be cost-prohibitive.

“Robbery and violence prevention programs based on validated measures can be expected to be effective in reducing robbery and violence in the convenience store,” Erickson said. When cities get into unvalidated measures, results at preventing crime could be less effective.”

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