For Safety’s SakeHope for the Best; Prepare for the Worst
Back in 2013, Calgary liquor stores saw a spate of smash-and-grabs, where thieves would drive a pickup truck (usually stolen) through a shop’s loading door and make off with whatever they could get their hands on. Bobby Kullar, manager of the Bridgeland Liquor Store, located in the heart of the city, remembers when it happened to him: “Somebody backed into the back door,” he recalls. The crooks broke through the metal shutters, made off with 10 cases of liquor and caused thousands of dollars of damage.
That happened before the oil crash. Liquor stores have always been targets for stickyfingered desperadoes, but since the price of oil plummeted, from over $100 a barrel in June 2014 to around $40, things have gotten much worse.
In Alberta, a province where the price of oil is inextricably linked to the economy, thousands of jobs have vanished, followed by a swift uptick in crime. In July 2015, Calgary police reported that property crimes were up by 43% in the first few months of the year. In October, Edmonton Police reported that, year over year, violent crime had increased by 12%, property crime by 18% and the number of 911 calls rose nearly 14%. By November, Statistics Canada was reporting that even the homicide rate was on the rise in Alberta, while falling to its lowest rates in half a century across the rest of the country.
All of this has a direct effect on liquor retailers. Thefts – or at least attempted ones – are definitely up, reports Kullar. “People try to steal, but most of the time we catch them right away,” he explains. That’s because he’s learned the hard way to pay attention to the safety of his business – and the people in it.
Theft not only affects a business’s bottom line, it also puts the physical safety of both staff and customers at risk. Accordingly, just as smart business owners install handrails on stairways and clear the sidewalks of ice in winter, they should also do their utmost to create a safe and secure environment in their stores.
It starts with a plan. Security experts insist that all stores should have procedures to deal with everything from counterfeit currency to armed robberies. Staff should be made aware of the procedures, and be required to review them regularly, just as they are at the Dickinsfield Liquor Store in Fort McMurray. “There’s a policies and procedures binder to do with armed robberies and such that staff need to read monthly,” describes Assistant Manager Angelia Jurich. “The robbery section is [also] posted in the bathroom.”
The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission’s Liquor Licensee Handbook recommends asking local police to conduct a crime analysis of the store’s premises, including crime activity in the surrounding neighbourhood. Use this valuable information to put safeguards in place.
One thing is certain: If there’s one thing a store cannot afford to do, it’s nothing at all, because when a crime like a break-and-enter happens, it happens fast. “Last time they did it in three minutes,” Kullar shares. “They’re so quick.”
Secure the Perimeter
It’s essential to know what to do when something bad happens, but it’s equally important to prevent it from happening in the first place.
The AGLC suggests such common-sense measures as installing deadbolt locks, alarm systems, and ample lighting inside and out – including parking areas. They recommend protecting windows with metal bars or shutters, especially at nighttime. They also advise clearing sightlines in stores of obstacles like high shelving and large displays.
Owners are encouraged to keep any foliage around the shop low and discreet, so thieves can’t hide behind it. Forget about putting benches outside – they just give panhandlers, prostitutes, drug dealers and other troublemakers a place to loiter. “We’re located close to the downtown area, so we’re most worried about drug users. Those are the scariest people,” Kullar says.
When people see the cameras, they get worried and they leave right away.
Keep an Eye on Things
One of the most useful initiatives a store owner can employ is to install video cameras, which have the dual benefit of deterring criminals, and should a crime occur, preserving evidence that can be used later in court.
The Bridgeland Liquor Store, for instance, has installed video cameras inside the store and all around the plaza where it’s located. “We did it 10 years ago because we had people hanging around the back of the building and drinking,” Kullar explains. “When people see the cameras, they get worried and they leave right away.”
It’s the same at Dickinsfield Liquor Store. “There’s not one part of the store that’s not covered by cameras,” Jurich says. “There used to be [gaps], but then there was an incident where I was assaulted.”
Just the presence of a camera can prevent a crime, so even a cheap one is worthwhile. However, if you actually need to present evidence in court, you’ll need a camera that records images of adequate clarity to identify the criminals.
Security companies recommend high-resolution megapixel cameras that offer panoramic, 180° or 360° views of your premises. They also recommend using remote video monitoring so you can keep an eye on what’s happening even when you’re not there.
Protect Your People
Ultimately, the biggest security asset in your store is also the one you most need to protect: the people who work there. The best way to protect employees is to make sure enough of them are working at any given time.
Kullar has noticed that in the plaza where his store is located, the convenience store has repeatedly been hit by thieves, while his store hasn’t. He believes that’s because the convenience store often only has one person working, while his store almost always has three. “We have an extra person here all the time. We never leave anyone alone,” he says. “It’s a small store, but we overstaff a little bit.”
Security experts also suggest going the extra step and installing panic buttons throughout the store, so staff can quickly summon police in an emergency – or even having staff wear them at all times, as they do at Dickinsfield. “We have panic buttons that we’re supposed to wear. They’re pretty much standard, and when you wear them it’s supposed to deter [robbers]. Police should be able to come right away,” describes Jurich. She adds, reassuringly, “I’ve only had to use it once.” With any luck, and with the right safety measures in place, she won’t have to use it again.