Security in Convenience Stores


What Are Convenience Stores?

Convenience stores (c-stores) are unique commercial properties in that they are usually open 24-hours, are largely a cash-based business, can be operated by one clerk, and are conveniently located for quick in and out shopping.
The nature of this business makes it very convenient for customers. Unfortunately, this business style also makes it an attractive target for robbers and other criminals.
Since 1976, the convenience store industry has made major strides toward preventing and deterring robberies. Back then, those late-night businesses were an obvious robbery target because they were the only game in town. However, the c-store business has evolved since the 70s and is now far more complex.

Early Security Tactics

Convenience store security, as it existed in the mid-1970s, was largely seen as a police problem. The more serious problems that affected these late-night businesses were crimes like armed robbery and assaults on customers and store employees. The most prevalent crimes were “beer runs” and shoplifting which plagued the inexperienced store operator and tended to generate the most calls for police assistance. There were no research or effective crime prevention programs at that time that focused on these security issues.

Most law enforcement agencies in the mid-1970s thought convenience stores were a nuisance. The police couldn’t understand why these small markets had to be open 24-hours a day and why they tried to operate with only one clerk on duty. Robbers were netting $300-500 per job and the word got out on the street that convenience stores were an easy and often lucrative target.
Law enforcement didn’t know how to prevent convenience store crime other than by arresting the perpetrators. The problem became so acute, in some cities, that the police tried stakeouts, undercover graveyard clerks, and even backroom shotgun squads. All of these methods failed and caused horrific violence in a few cases.

Robbery Prevention Evolution

Initially, what evolved were new programs to help convenience stores identify the robbers and take them off the street. Black and white video cameras were becoming more affordable and were beginning to be installed in a few stores.
Robberies dropped dramatically in those few stores as well as shortages due to employee theft. Simultaneously, a law enforcement entrepreneur developed a mechanized 35mm camera (Crime Eye) that was disguised into a speaker box that would activate during a robbery when “bait money” was pulled from a money clip that was installed inside the cash register.

Both of these systems provided the police, for the first time, images of the robbers which aided in their arrest and clearance of hundreds of robberies. This new technology told us that a relatively small group was responsible for committing multiple robberies. The only problem was that these speaker box cameras stood out like a sore thumb and the cameras were often out of the film at the critical time.

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