Retail stores are increasingly being seen as a ‘soft target’ for armed robberies. In addition to the financial costs involved, innocent employees and shoppers can be caught up in these violent situations.
Buddy Anderson, retail specialist for ADT, says that although the larger retail stores tend to contract security guards at their main entrances, they are primarily used to deter would-be shoplifters and are not specifically trained to manage armed attacks.
Even retail centres that use outsourced security companies have little chance of averting a major robbery as the criminals usually work in large numbers and can overpower a small number of guards. Anderson says some retailers have installed closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras to help with surveillance, as well as sophisticated alarm systems. While these can play a valuable role in preventing and detecting crime, retailers should not rely on individual measures in isolation. Retail centres need to approach security more holistically to maximise their protection.
Recent studies have shown that the largest numbers of armed robberies occur on a Sunday and the highest financial losses take place on a Tuesday. This is because many retailers have their biggest sales over the weekend but do not always bank their takings straight away. The robberies are often perpetrated very early in the morning before a store opens or at closing time.
Retailers have started to utilise cash in transit (CIT) services to collect their banking on a daily basis, which can help to improve the situation. However, this has led to a rise in 'cross pavement' robberies where attacks are focused on the CIT guards. To try and prevent this, many of the larger retailers have either arranged that cash is collected through the back areas of their stores or have implemented a safe drop system which facilitates collection from the outside of the premises.
Another danger point in a retail environment is automatic teller machines (ATMs). Robberies at ATMs often involve not only firearms but sometimes explosives as well.
Anderson believes both retail centre owners and tenants need to share their knowledge and co-ordinate their efforts to respond better to the threat of violent robberies.
Ideally the following processes should be implemented:
* Risk assessment and hazards analysis.
* Development of emergency plans.
* Training of staff.
* Setting up a mutual aid agreement and 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 proactive about the protection of their tenants and the customers that shop on a daily basis," says Anderson.
Once the hazards are clearly understood, centre owners will be able to develop integrated solutions to minimise the threat. Emergency plans can then be documented so that it is clear what actions need to take place should an incident occur.
Training of all employees and security personnel will help to ensure that everyone understands how the plans should be put into practice. In addition, regular drills and periodic testing of the security systems should be carried out.
A mutual aid agreement between the guarding organisations at the shopping centre can help to provide added support for each store. These should also include the South African Police Services (SAPS), the Emergency Services, CIT companies, alarm companies and armed response services.
A communication network will then need to be set up so that information can be relayed to all parties concerned. 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 and 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. Forming a collaborative partnership with all of the relevant stakeholders to develop a more integrated approach to the threat will help retailers to increase their protection and be better prepared should they be attacked," concludes Anderson.
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