Mock robbery teaches retailers about safety, security

Oct 20, 2013
Mock robbery teaches retailers about safety, security
Retail Alliance employees staged a mock robbery last month at the Virginia Retail Loss Prevention Conference in Portsmouth.
Paul Chin Jr., RGB Imaging

A man with a gun walks into your place of business and demands money. Do you know what to do?

Chesterfield Police Department Cpl. Mike Catron talked about this scary scenario complete with a mock robbery demonstration at the 12th annual Virginia Retail Loss Prevention Conference in Portsmouth last month.

The demonstration began with a robber entering a clothing store. The thief told a customer to get on the ground and demanded money from the store owner. She complied. The robber left with a cash bag.

Upon his exit, the store owner immediately locked the door, asked the customer if she was OK and then called the police. Catron said her actions were "the preferred order."

"You lock the door so the robber cannot come back in," Catron said. "You also don't want someone else coming in."

Following the call to police, the area where the money was taken, such as the cash register or safe, should be blocked off. It is important not to touch anything, he said.

Witnesses to the crime should not discuss among themselves what they experienced; instead, they should wait to give information to the police, Catron said.

"People remember different things," he said. "It helps to paint a better description if there are different stories - not everyone collaborating on one story.

"And if you do not know the answer to a question, please say you don't know," he said. "Don't make it up to save embarrassment. We had an incident where a young lady did not know some of the answers, so she made them up. It cost us a lot of time and effort."

Witnesses should stay until after they are questioned by police. However, a business owner cannot force anyone to stay, he said.

"If anyone wants to leave, saying they are too shook up, you as a business owner cannot detain them," Catron said.

"But if they leave before the police arrive, they are automatically considered a suspect," he warned.

Store owners, employees and customers should never try to fight off a robber. Nor should they attempt to resist demands, Catron said.

"There are stories where someone fought off a robber or just said no, they weren't going to give them the money," Catron said. "Those people are not heroes, they're idiots!"

One way businesses can help law enforcement with a robbery investigation is to have a plan in place and discuss it with the employees.

"If you are a small business, get your employees involved. Ask their opinion. This gives employees ownership, and when more than one person contributes to the plan, there will be more ideas," he said.

All employees should review a list of questions commonly asked by police during the planning meeting. New employees should review them during their training.

He recommended several tools to help identify a robber, including height tape at the door and cameras throughout the store.

"I've heard some business owners say having height tape at the door and cameras makes the place look like there is a problem," he said.

But the tape and cameras can be nonintrusive.

He advised that all employees should know how to replay the video, so they can show it to police if the owner is not present.

"We've had incidents where right after the robbery we asked to see the video and no one but the owner knew how to work it and the owner was out of town," Catron said. "It helps us more if we can see it right away."

He pointed out that cameras that do not work could get a business in trouble.

"Having a fake camera gives a false sense of security," Catron said. "If there is an incident, and the cameras are checked and there is nothing to see, it could get you sued."

Prevention measures for theft can be as simple as saying hello to people entering the business.

"This lets someone know that you have noticed them," he said.

Signs on the business should also not block public view into the business, Catron said.

Overall, Catron has one warning to business owners:

"Don't think it can't happen to you."