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Dave Roepke, Published July 22 2009

Training helps in convenience store robberies

Craig Branby has posted notices for his clerks about the recent rash of armed robberies at area gas stations and late-night stores.

There have been five in the past month, two at gas stations. Yet his staff isn’t too worried, said Branby, manager at the Moorhead M&H at 510 Main Ave.

Maybe that’s because the 24-hour convenience store follows all the security measures police and industry experts suggest: maximize the risk for the robber, minimize the potential reward and don’t resist if the worst does happen.

Good lighting and open store designs are especially essential for being an unappealing target, said Jeff Lenard, spokesman for the National Association of Convenience Stores. When it’s easier to see in and out, robbers take less interest.

“You don’t want to make your door like a submarine,” Lenard said.

Fargo Police Sgt. Mark Lykken, an investigations supervisor, said checkout areas should be highly visible, because citizens are often the first to spot crimes in progress.

Maximizing risk is also why some stores will erect a fence or otherwise limit entry and exit points, Lenard said. In interviews with 1,000 robbers, a study by forensic sociologist Rosemary Erickson of Sioux Falls, S.D., found that the escape route was the top factor in picking targets.

Lykken said time-delay safes are also a must. They allow clerks to deposit cash at any time, but only allow taking it out at set intervals. That allows a store to reduce how much money is available to steal.

“They should put up signs displaying that,” he said.

The third crucial step is training clerks to react as if a robber is a customer, as Lenard puts it: Give them what they want, and get them out the door.

Erickson, who has been a security consultant for dozens of businesses, said 10 percent of retail robberies turn violent, compared to 30 percent of total robberies. The no-resistance training employees get is the difference, she said.

Lykken said that’s what police recommend, and it is the training that clerks at M&H receive, Branby said.

Cameras are also highly recommended and should be tested regularly, Lykken said. Erickson said videos like the three clips Fargo police released Tuesday from a Sunday night robbery at the Stop-N-Go at 3216 12th Ave. N. often spark arrests, though she doubts they’re much of a deterrent.

Erickson said studies are not as supportive of the effectiveness of other security measures, such as installing thick glass barriers in front of clerks. Fargo police don’t push the enclosures either, Lykken said, though a handful of area stores use them.

Hiring two clerks for the overnight shifts, required by law in certain cases in Florida and New Mexico, doesn’t seem to be any safer, Erickson said. But it’s a move that Lykken said Fargo police endorse.

One problem with two clerks: Most stores don’t need both employees at the till, Lenard said. If one is in back stocking or doing inventory, it’s too easy to create a surprise while a robbery is in progress.

“Typically, the response to surprises is an escalation of violence,” he said.

Local robberies

There have been five armed robberies in the area in the past month. The suspect in each was described as being a man who is 5 feet, 7 inches tall. Fargo police Sgt. Mark Lykken said investigators aren’t sure if all the cases are connected.

Source: Forum archives

Advice for victims

Here is some advice for victims of a robbery, from a study by security consultant and forensic sociologist Rosemary Erickson:

From the same study, the top five factors that adult robbers use in selecting a convenience store to hit:

Source: “Teenage Robbers: How and Why They Rob,” by Rosemary Erickson of the Athena Research Corp.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535