Retail stores are increasingly being seen as ‘soft targets’ for armed robberies and innocent shoppers are often caught in the cross fire
Buddy Anderson, retail specialist for ADT, says that while the larger retail stores have tended to contract security guards at their front entrances, these guards are not specifically trained to manage violent situations but rather to deter would-be shoplifters. Even those centres that have contracted outsourced security companies have very little chance of averting a robbery as the gangs usually work in large numbers and overpower existing guards. Anderson says retailers in some instances have installed CCTV cameras to help in surveillance, as well as sophisticated alarm systems. While these play a valuable role, a centre needs to approach its security in an holistic manner and they need to ensure all security staff comply with minimum training standards.
Recent studies have shown that most armed robberies occur on a Sunday with the highest financial losses being on a Tuesday. The robberies are either perpetrated very early in the morning prior to opening the store to customers, or at closing time. Clearly retailers have their highest sales over weekends and the takings are only banked after the weekend, usually on a Tuesday. Many retailers have resorted to utilising CIT (cash in transit) services to collect their banking on a daily basis which tends to improve the situation to a certain extent. "The robberies have unfortunately not dissipated and have moved to what is known as 'cross pavement' robberies where attacks are now being diverted to the security guards transporting the banking for the retailers," says Anderson. Many of the larger retailers have accordingly either arranged that cash is collected through the back areas of their stores or have implemented a drop safe system which entails collection from the outside of the premises.
The other danger point in a retail environment is ATMs, which involve not only firearms but sometimes explosives as well.
Anderson believes both centre owners and tenants need to better co-ordinate efforts to gain greater insight into how they should deal with security preparedness and response in the event of robberies. He says a detailed risk assessment should be conducted together with documented preventative measures and emergency procedures, and training should be carried out on a regular basis involving all concerned. This includes liaison with local law enforcement.
Ideally the following processes need to be investigated and implemented - risk assessment, hazards analysis, emergency plans, training of staff, mutual aid and a communication network.
"Without a proper risk assessment of the possible hazards involved in an armed robbery situation, it is difficult for mall managers to be pro-active in the protection of their tenants and the customers that shop on a daily basis," says Anderson.
He says with the hazards analysis and the necessary collaboration and commitment of all concerned, centre owners will be able to offer solutions to minimise the occurrence of the same and these would include the use of high-end CCTV and access control
Documented emergency plans can be put into place with assigned responsibilities to who should carry out specific actions should an incident occur.
Training of all tenant staff needs to be conducted as well as outsourced and contracted security staff together with periodic testing, revision and drills.
With regards mutual aid, an agreement needs to be formulated between the security organisations within the shopping centre in regard to participation. This would also include the South African Police Services cash in transit companies, alarm companies, armed response and all emergency services.
A communication network then needs to be set up so that information can be relayed to all parties concerned and action taken as soon as possible. In addition there should be regular meetings of all representatives.
Finally, there is a need for property developers to integrate their efforts with law enforcement initiatives as well as service providers to the tenants in the shopping centres.
"The days when crimes of this nature were seen to be the sole responsibility of the police and crime prevention initiatives are over. The only way to ensure the shopping environment is kept safe is through a collaborative partnership with all the relevant stakeholders," concludes Anderson.
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