Three brazen masked men swept into a Gap store at the upscale Arboretum Shopping Center in south Charlotte, NC, Saturday night before Thanksgiving hoping to gain access to the store’s safe. Thanks to a two-key safe loss prevention technology, the robbers left with only minimal cash as well as cell phones and credit cards from eight customers and staff in the store.
Witnesses in the store told police that around 8:00 p.m. three young men wearing masks and dark-colored hoodies stormed through the front door waving handguns before herding the customers and store associates to the back of the store. The men were apparently targeting the store’s cash as they demanded a store manager open the safe.According to police reports the robbers took an undisclosed amount of the day’s cash sales, but a second two-key safe was untouched. The three left the victims shaken, but unhurt. As of this writing, the suspects are still at large facing armed robbery, kidnapping, and assault charges.
Partly because the store is located near LP Magazine’s offices and this author’s home, the robbery drew our attention and prompted several questions. First, how common is it for stores like Gap to experience armed robberies? One loss prevention executive with experience with several specialty apparel retailers who could not speak on the record due to corporate policy told LP Magazine that these types of incidents are “very unusual.” Given the serious felony offenses involved, armed robbery is a high-risk, low-reward proposition according to the executive.
How do retailers train associates to handle these types of situations? Most retailers tell employees to not resist and comply with demands, favoring any loss of revenues over individuals’ safety. Debbie Felix, a Gap Inc. spokesperson, issued this statement: “The safety of our employees and customers is always our top priority, and we are continuing to work closely with local law enforcement on their investigation. We are grateful for the actions of our store employees, who followed safety procedures and stayed calm in the face of a very frightening experience.”
Use of a two-key safe is a common loss prevention strategy to minimize losses from both robbery and internal theft. According to a representative of a safe manufacturer, the process allows employees to secure multi-day deposits because the safe can only be opened when armored car personnel possessing a second key arrive on-site. This strategy provides two benefits. First, it minimizes cash losses to one day’s cash on hand in registers and regular safes, plus it reduces armored car expenses because pickups can be done less frequently. One potential negative to this strategy is that assailants could lash out at employees when they cannot gain access to the two-key safe.
CCTV surveillance video was provided to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) who released the images to the media Monday. Captain Todd Lontz in the CMPD’s South Division told ABC affiliate WSOC-TV that “officers were just around the corner and were there in probably less than a minute” of the 911 call. He added that the Gap robbery was unusual in this affluent part of Charlotte and that police regularly patrol the Arboretum Shopping Center. “Because of the amount of business and in anticipation of the busy shopping season, we’ve had extra patrols out there as well,” Lontz said.