Armed Robbery Prevention—When It’s an Inside Job

How can retailers be proactive in armed robbery prevention?

armed robbery prevention safe

Armed robberies are rare. When they do occur, they rarely result in injuries. It’s important to preface any conversation regarding armed robbery prevention in this way.

This is not to imply that these incidents make up a significant amount of a loss prevention professional’s time. However, when they do occur, they can be traumatic and dangerous. Therefore, armed robberies typically receive more attention than the measure of time in which they occur.

Armed robberies are also unpredictable and difficult to prevent. As long as a retailer’s doors are open for business, there is risk of of a store robbery. If this is the case, how are we to be proactive in robbery prevention?

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Some countermeasures may be effective in preventing armed robberies, such as CCTV and cash controls. However, these controls can only do so much. Armed robbers frequently hit locations known to have CCTV because this problem is simply solved with a mask.

Other robbery prevention countermeasures are available, but none of them can eliminate armed robberies entirely. Ironically, it is difficult to measure the success of these countermeasures because in some cases, they may have an opposite correlation with armed robberies.

We see this occur when convenience stores are often robbed with small amounts of cash and several armed robbery prevention measures, while other retailers with more cash and fewer countermeasures are robbed less frequently.

On the surface, this doesn’t make sense. Could it be coincidence? Are these countermeasures ineffective? Perhaps it’s a result of another reason: it’s an “inside job.”

The idea that current or former employees would take part in an armed robbery is nothing new. In fact, data suggests that as many as half of armed robberies involve current or former employees. However, that information has been volunteered by suspects, which is unlikely to include every instance.

We see this commonly in internal theft investigations, when admissions rarely total the entire amount of stolen cash or product. The question then becomes, “How much higher is it?” This question may never be answered, but the percentage of employees committing armed robbery could be significantly higher.

First of all, armed robbers typically seem to know where the cash is. As a robber, wouldn’t you be uncomfortable robbing a store if you didn’t know where the cash was located? Imagine yourself trusting a store employee to lead you through halls and doorways in order to get to the safe. If one person is acting alone, they may not be able to control customers and employees who are also present.

But someone who knows where the cash is kept—a former or current employee, for instance—would have an easier time. At this point, anxiety is reduced and a plan can be created.

As previously stated, armed robberies are rarely violent. This could be explained in part by the fact that these people are seeking money and do not want to hurt anyone. However, there could be an additional component. If a current or former employee is involved, their participation may be contingent on nobody being harmed. Regardless of how the current or former employee feels about the retailer, they may still care about the other employees, some of whom may be friends.

It’s impossible to determine how many current and former employees play a part in the nonviolence, but it’s worth considering because it opens up a new opportunity for robbery prevention. If it was known that current and previous employees were the source of most information related to armed robberies, a retailer could tailor their awareness message appropriately. Targeting a would-be armed robber with an awareness message is impractical, but reaching an employee with that message is an option. Since employees may be the source of information for armed robbers, they may also repeat an awareness message. Imagine these two conversations:

Conversation One: “Target this retailer. I can tell you where they keep the money.”

Conversation Two: “I wouldn’t target this retailer. The retailer is frequently talking about armed robbery countermeasures, and I think they may be using sophisticated technology.”

In the second example, an employee is giving information to discourage an armed robbery. This could be the result of employee awareness messaging from the retailer. In this instance, the employee may have prevented an armed robbery.

Since the available countermeasures for armed robberies are scarce, internally focused awareness may be worth considering. If a retailer already has awareness programs for armed robberies, it may be an opportunity to insert some content which could be repeated to a would-be armed robber.

Armed robberies are rare and nearly impossible to predict, but they are traumatic, even when there are not injuries. Unfortunately, little data exists about which countermeasures work. In addition, it’s impossible to be sure how often current and former employees are involved. If a retailer has an existing awareness platform, messaging employees on the subject may be a cost-effective robbery prevention option worth consideration.

This article was originally published in 2014 and was updated April 16, 2019.

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