What Can Retailers Do About Smash-and-Grab Theft?

Organized retail crime (ORC) is a growing problem for retailers. Since the pandemic began, brazen daylight robberies have become more frequent, and shop owners say they’re also more violent.

In a new report from the NRF, 70 percent of retailers said organized retail theft is increasing, and two-thirds reported that the perpetrators are more aggressive than before. Retailers cited COVID-19, police staffing shortages, changes in prosecuting guidelines, and the growth of online marketplaces as top reasons behind the increase.

One popular tactic is the smash-and-grab robbery. It’s what it sounds like: thieves smash barriers, like windows and jewelry cases, grab all the valuables they can, and make a quick getaway. Alarms don’t scare them. They also have no concern for the customers or staff who might see them—unless they get in the way. It isn’t just merchandise they target either. Criminals are using stolen vehicles to drive through the front of convenience stores, then chaining up and hauling away ATM machines full of cash.

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Smash-and-grab thefts happen both in broad daylight and at night after the store has closed. These robberies may be a crime of opportunity hatched by youths on social media or a sophisticated operation masterminded by experienced thieves. You can be sure what the criminals’ motivation is though: monetization of stolen property.

What can retailers do to protect employees, customers, and merchandise from this kind of theft?

  1. Develop a standard operating procedure in the event this occurs

Just like a fire safety plan, having a standard operating procedure to respond in the event of a smash-and-grab helps ensure employees know what to do, where to go, and the protocols to follow if your store is hit. Make sure staff knows they should not do anything to put themselves in harm’s way; their safety, and that of the customers, is the top priority.

Include in your plan:

  • A designated space away from the areas of the store that are most likely to be targeted
  • Instructions on where to find and how to activate panic buttons
  • What to do after a smash and grab event (call 9-1-1, take a headcount, provide first aid if needed, console customers, offer assistance with transportation or accompaniment to their cars for anyone who is visibly shaken or upset, etc.)
  1. Adapt your security system to deter robbery and make it easier for staff to call for help

Some security features that can be helpful to add include:

  • Panic buttons in strategic locations such as jewelry departments or adjacent to fire alarms in centralized locations that trigger video monitoring, alerts, audible and visual alarms, or even body-worn cameras if desired (this can all be set up within a unified security software solution)
  • Siren or enunciator with a pre-recorded message to let employees and customers know there is a potentially dangerous event in progress and law enforcement is en route (this may also spook amateur crooks, leading them to cut the attack short)
  • Motion detectors that trigger strobe lights and sirens if people enter secure areas during off-hours
  • Glass break sensors and exterior motion detection to trigger intrusion systems
  • A video management system (VMS) that allows for notifications and video push, so that security teams, third-party monitoring companies, or even local law enforcement (in certain jurisdictions) can be alerted and see the crime in progress
  1. Harden targets to make theft more difficult or less profitable

Another potential tactic to take is to make it harder for thieves by making security more visible, and valuable items harder or more time-consuming to steal.

Target hardening options include:

  • Installing ballistic glass that won’t shatter on impact, or pull-down metal shutters to cover shop windows when the store is closed
  • Set up a tangle wire perimeter; a slinky-like coiled wire barrier that is a visual deterrent and hinders getaways on foot
  • Hire uniformed security or off-duty police to protect stores while shoppers are there
  • Merchandise higher-ticket items at the back in the store, so that thieves must travel further to get products as well as exit
  • Keep minimal high-ticket items on the floor for display; keep extra stock in a locked storeroom
  • Add benefit denial products such as lock chains on expensive garments that must be unlocked by an employee, dye or ink tags that stain garments if improperly removed, or technology that renders electronics and tools useless until activated at point-of-purchase
  1. Gather evidence to help prosecutors convict the perpetrators of ORC

The decriminalization of small-scale crimes in some states has resulted in a marked increase in retail theft. Yet many of these “small” thefts under felony theft thresholds are part of a larger, sophisticated criminal enterprise that potentially can yield millions of dollars in illicit profits.

Law enforcement agencies in some cities are waking up to the significance of smash-and-grab theft and are now specifically targeting this type of crime.

At the end of the day, the only way to stop smash-and-grab theft is to arrest and convict prolific offenders. Retailers need to ensure they do their part to gather evidence and share it in a way that is admissible in court to help prosecutors go after the ringleaders of ORC.

Additional tools to catch and prosecute ORC include:

  • GPS trackers on specific products to trace their path to fences and storage facilities
  • A video management system with easy cloud-based evidence-sharing, so that video files can be quickly and securely shared with partners, law enforcement, and prosecutors. The system should provide full audit tracking to preserve the chain of custody and ensure it is admissible in court
  • Participate in a community camera registry program, if available in your community, to make it easier for local law enforcement to gather evidence related to neighborhood crimes
  1. Pull it all together with a unified security software solution

You can invest in alarms, strobes, cameras, GPS trackers, video surveillance, glass break sensors, and panic buttons, but if all these devices are controlled by different software solutions, it can be time-consuming, expensive, and complicated to manage. That’s why it’s important to look for a unified security solution that allows you to monitor and control video management, access control, intrusion systems and evidence-sharing. An open architecture platform will enable adding new security solutions in the future.

Not only are unified physical security solutions easier to manage, because there’s only one piece of software to learn and monitor, they also reduce investigation time spent building cases.

When you compile together data from multiple sources, you can more easily begin the process of identifying, tracking, and eventually seeing ORC gangs prosecuted.

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