There’s understandable concern about the incontrovertible rise in organized retail crime (ORC). However, there’s another—perhaps even more insidious—trend lurking in these numbers. Not only is retail theft on the rise, but serious violence in retail environments has become increasingly prevalent.
According to FBI data, in 2020, of the more than two million assaults reported by law enforcement agencies across the country, more than 82,000 (about 4 percent) occurred in retail stores. A recent survey of asset protection managers found that 76% of respondents reported physical assault against retail associates as a result of ORC, while 40% reported attacks involving weapons.
Employees are feeling the effects, and are increasingly concerned that retail is becoming a dangerous place to work. The surge in aggression and violence—especially connected to organized retail crime—has even forced some big name retailers to close locations and reduce store hours.
This fast uptick in violence has left retailers scrambling to find proactive solutions to ensure the safety of employees, shoppers, and their brand reputation.
In-store security measures such as increased surveillance and security presence can be helpful for fast response during an event; however, retailers should place more emphasis on preventing crimes and violent acts before they occur. This involves installing perimeter security measures, such as license plate recognition technology, which extend your awareness from the front door all the way to the parking lot.
First Layer of Defense: License Plate Recognition Systems
Around 70% of crimes involve a vehicle, according to the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Indeed, this statistic is likely even higher in the ORC space, given the aim of removing a substantial amount of merchandise from the targeted store. Focusing surveillance on entering vehicles is a fruitful violence prevention measure.
Automated license plate recognition (ALPR) camera systems are specifically calibrated to detect and recognize license plates. Unlike traditional video security cameras, an ALPR system makes license plate reader evidence easily accessible and quickly searchable. Additionally, some ALPR systems offer advanced search capabilities that can help identify vehicles linked to multiple crimes or identify accomplice vehicles, such as those involved in ORC.
If a crime or incident of violence occurs, even without a full plate number, police or security personnel can narrow down footage based on the timeframe, vehicle color, vehicle type, make, or other descriptors, such as alterations and damage. Authorities can then use this investigative evidence to quickly solve cases, strengthen prosecutions, and gather intelligence to reduce future threats.
Proactively Stop Threats
It is crucial that effective deterrence begins as soon as a potential threat crosses the perimeter of your property. Once a person with a weapon enters the building, escalation can occur rapidly, posing a threat to the safety of store employees and customers.
Some ALPR systems enable law enforcement or security personnel to receive real-time alerts when previously identified vehicles—such as those belonging to repeat offenders, banned guests, violent terminated employees, or individuals known to engage in ORC—enter a property. Police and security can then take appropriate measures to deter potential violence before it takes place without making a scene or endangering innocent bystanders.
License plates and vehicle details also offer valuable investigative tools for law enforcement and security in the event that a crime has already occurred. Unlike traditional video surveillance, ALPR systems provide an easily searchable database that can quickly narrow down timeframes and suspect vehicles. The top ALPR vendors offer machine learning software that help pare down hundreds of potential vehicles to a few or even one suspect vehicle.
Another important benefit of an ALPR system is the shared network it supports between connected retailers. For retailers that have multiple storefronts, an ALPR network allows for a shared database that breaks down silos between stores and security teams. For example, imagine a multi-time offender is known to one store’s security personnel, who enters their license plate in the system. If that same offender approaches a different location a few weeks later, the team in that store will also be proactively flagged to be aware of this vehicle.
Lastly, it is imperative that retailers and law enforcement agencies form strong, strategic partnerships to address retail violence. With ALPR camera systems, businesses can better collaborate with local law enforcement to mitigate risks and intercept threats in real-time.
If you are a retailer seeing a rise in violence and crime, I strongly encourage you to work with your local police department to implement proactive security technologies for the protection of your customers, your employees, and the operation of your business.
Robert Parks, LPC, CFI is a commercial solutions consultant for Flock Safety with over 15 years of experience in global security operations, programs, and technology management. He formerly served as head of public safety at a large healthcare organization and as manager of asset protection at a major international retail chain. Prior to joining the private sector, Parks was a law enforcement officer and worked for the Department of Homeland Security.