Robbery of Convenience Stores
Guide No. 49 (2007)
The Problem of Robbery of Convenience Stores
What This Guide Does and Does Not Cover
This guide begins by describing the problem of convenience store robbery and reviewing factors that increase its risk. It then identifies a series of questions to help you analyze your local convenience store robbery problem. Finally, it reviews responses to the problem and what is known about these from evaluative research and police practice.
Convenience store robbery is but one aspect of the larger set of problems related to robbery and to commercial establishments. Although all robbery types share some common features, convenience store robbery warrants special attention because convenience stores have special characteristics. Related problems not directly addressed in this guide, each requiring separate analysis, include
- Bank robbery
- Burglary of retail establishments
- Check and card fraud
- False burglar alarms
- Gasoline drive-offs
- Gun violence
- Robbery at automated teller machines
- Robbery of taxi drivers
- Street muggings
- Theft by employees.
Some of these related problems are covered in other guides in this series, all of which are listed at the end of this guide. For the most up-to-date listing of current and future guides, see www.popcenter.org
General Description of the Problem
About Convenience Stores
Convenience stores are "retail business[es] with primary emphasis placed on providing the public a convenient location to quickly purchase from a wide array of consumable products (predominantly food and gasoline) and services."1 There are over 135,000 convenience stores operating in the United States, and the number continues to grow.§ An estimated 100 million Americans visit a convenience store on any given day; each convenience store might serve hundreds, even thousands, of customers daily.2 Over 80 percent of all Americans, because of their busy schedules, prefer convenience stores to supermarkets.3
§ The Middle Atlantic States (New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania) led the increase in number of stores (9.8 percent from the previous year), although all U.S. regions experienced an increase within the past year (National Association of Convenience Stores 2005).
Extent of the Problem
Convenience store robberies account for approximately 6 percent of all robberies known to the police.4 Although this comprises a relatively small percentage of total robberies, the problem is persistent. Over the last 30 years, there has been little change in the proportion of convenience store robberies. Nevertheless, convenience stores in particular locations can be vulnerable to repeat victimization, especially those types of retailers that have large amounts of cash, low security, and few staff and customers likely to resist.5
The numbers of U.S. convenience store robberies rose significantly in the 1980s and then declined just as significantly in the 1990s, a reduction that could be due in part to the development of better crime prevention measures in convenience stores,6 many of which are discussed in the Responses section below.
§ See Problem-Solving Tools Guide No. 4, Analyzing Repeat Victimization.
Some stores are repeatedly victimized, either by the same offender or different offenders. Reasons for repeat victimization vary. A successful robber might return to rob the same store again or might tell other robbers about the store. Alternatively, a wide range of robbers might see the store as particularly attractive or vulnerable.§§ Media accounts may actually play up the vulnerability of the store by reporting successful robberies7 and may glamorize the crime, giving would-be offenders the notion that those that "rob with style" don't get caught.8
§§ See the Problem-Solving Tools Guide on Understanding Risky Facilities for further discussion of why some places are more vulnerable to crime than other similar places.
Interviews with convicted robbers revealed that they often selected easy targets assuming that "victims [businesses] will not install preventative measures to stop them."9 One study of convenience store robbery victims indicates that more than one-half of the respondents reported subsequent changes in store policy or practice after a robbery.10 It was also found that a store was most vulnerable to revictimization within the first few weeks after the first robbery.11
Types of Convenience Store Robbery
Convenience store robberies are classified according to the offender's method of operation:12
- Straight: Demanding money immediately upon entering a store.
- Customer: Demanding money some time after entering a store and engaging in the act of making a purchase.
Another perhaps less common type is merchandise robbery,§ which involves the forcible taking of goods from a store. A higher number of employee injuries are reported in merchandise robberies, as active resistance and confrontation are more prevalent in these situations.13
§ One study by the Ontario Convenience Store Association found that an increase in merchandise robberies at convenience stores between 2001 and 2002 was related to higher cigarette prices, the existence of illicit markets, and the ease of disposal (Inkster Group 2004 [PDF]).
Harms Resulting From Convenience Store Robbery
Convenience store employees suffer from high rates of workplace homicide, second only to taxicab drivers.14, §§ Customers can also suffer injury from offender assaults. Injuries can result from an employee's active resistance or from the offender's misreading the employee's nervousness or hesitation as resistance.15 When faced with an employee who chooses to actively resist and is in a face-to-face confrontation, robbers may resort to injuring the worker to avoid apprehension. Higher injury rates are consistently found to be correlated with measures employees take during the robbery.16
§§ See the Problem-Oriented Policing Guide, Robbery of Taxi Drivers.
Convenience store robberies are not only costly to the workers victimized but also to the store itself. Costs include loss of customers who may be deterred from shopping at a store that has been robbed, leading to a loss of income from reduced customer sales. Stores can also experience an increase in workers' compensation costs and insurance premiums due to the robbery. Unfortunately, for those independently owned stores, losses may be unrecoverable, due to the inability of many small operations to afford insurance coverage.17 Stores that do not have insurance coverage may be forced to increase prices or potentially close. Other less direct costs include the various criminal justice activities of state and local governments, including police investigations, prosecutions, and incarceration and supervision of offenders.18
The average cost to employers of a single episode of workplace violence can amount to $250,000 in lost work time and legal expenses.19 Workplace victimizations reportedly contribute to a loss of 3.5 days per employee per crime. Victimization can further limit the ability of these stores to attract and maintain employees for the night shifts, particularly in stores that operate 24 hours a day20 and those with a high volume of cash transactions, a characteristic of such stores. The combination of operational expenses and security challenges can be financially burdensome.21
Victim employees can also suffer psychological harm.22 "Secondary victimization" can occur when employers, managers, employees, or those responding to the robbery fail to acknowledge the victim's trauma.23 This may result from not believing the victim's description of the attack, discounting the incident, and blaming or criticizing the victim. Psychological problems resulting from victimization may not only affect the employee's subsequent workplace performance, but also can affect the store's daily operations.§
§ Most victims' organizations agree that immediate intervention and support after a victim endures a robbery is beneficial to the victim's recovery, yet statistics show that of the 86,000 robbery victims (irrespective of location of victimization) in 1991, only 4 percent of the reported robbery victims were treated by mental health care providers (National Center for Victims of Crime 1997).
Factors Contributing to Convenience Store Robbery
Understanding the factors that contribute to convenience store robbery will help you frame your own local analysis questions, determine good effectiveness measures, recognize key intervention points, and select appropriate responses.
Research has identified many factors that influence a robbery's likelihood or outcome. In some cases, the findings are inconsistent or contradictory. This may be because it can be difficult to interpret studies based on small numbers of stores or difficult to determine if certain store features influenced the robberies, or were changed in response to the robberies.24 The factors generally found to contribute to the incidence of convenience store robberies follow.
Operation hours are by far the strongest factor contributing to convenience story robbery, particularly for stores open 24 hours a day.25 Late evening to early morning hours carry a greater risk of being targeted, perhaps because fewer people—other customers, police, or passersby—who might intervene are about.
Interior store layout
Several characteristics of a store's interior layout can influence its vulnerability to a robbery. Common among these is visibility, from two perspectives. First, employees should be able to see their surroundings, and second, people outside the store, including police on patrol, should be able to see into the store.26 Robbers are deterred by brightly lit stores in which employees and the store's cash registers are clearly visible from the street.27 The height and placement of store displays and shelving also determine whether there are unobstructed views inside the store.
Exterior store environment
Visibility is also a factor outside the store. Poorly lit gasoline islands and parking lots increase the chances of a robber's selecting a particular store,28 since employees cannot see what is occurring outside the store. There is also a relationship between parking lot size and store vulnerability in that a large parking area in front of the store reduces the ability of passersby to provide informal surveillance of the store's interior and exterior.29 The availability of viable escape routes is also a consideration in determining whether or not a store is a prime robbery target. For instance, poorly designed fencing or landscaping can facilitate a robber's quick flight from the store, thereby making the store a more attractive target.
There may be a relationship between the location and surrounding environment of a convenience store and its risk of becoming a robbery target. For instance, one study found that stores located in shopping complexes or strip malls had fewer robberies than those not in more concentrated commercial settings.30 A study of robberies at service stations and pharmacies produced similar findings.31 According to another study, stores in neighborhoods with older buildings and structures, close to graffiti and subsidized housing, and not located in a shopping center showed an increased risk of robbery.32
Convenience store type
Convenience stores can be distinguished from other retail establishments by the hours they operate, store size, and products sold. Most are open every day until late in the evening, with some open 24 hours a day. Some are corporate franchises, others are independently owned. Single-store businesses that are owned and operated as a one-store business or franchise dominate the market.33
There are generally six convenience store formats. Each is categorized by the size of the store and the products it sells, as shown in Table 1 below.34
Table 1: Convenience Store Types
|< 800 sq. ft.
Gasoline and "fast-moving" items (tobacco, beverages, snacks, and confectioneries)
Usually only at the pumps
800 to 1200 sq. ft.
Limited grocery selection (predominantly prepared sandwiches)
At the pumps and some with striped parking
1,500 to 2,200 sq. ft.
Broader product mix and added prepared foods (hot dogs, nachos, popcorn)
Striped parking (with extended hours)
2,400 to 2,500 sq. ft.
Expanded product mix (including dairy, bakery, snack foods, and beverages)
Six to 12 parking spaces and pedestrian access
2,800 to 3,600 sq. ft.
Traditional product mix
10 to 20 marked parking spaces
4,000 to 5,000 sq. ft.
Can include a bakery, restaurant area, or a pharmacy
Multiple parking spaces (usually larger than the expanded store)
Risk of robbery based on a variety of administrative and environmental factors has been proposed. For instance, stores with gas pumps, sometimes referred to as convenience gas stations, are less likely to be robbed than stores without pumps.35 Another study has found that independent stores less than two years old were at higher risk for robbery than older stores that are company owned and operated.36
The security and crime prevention measures convenience store owners employ vary considerably with the type and structure of ownership. 7-Eleven, Inc. has its own security department, policies, and employee crime-prevention training program.37 A "mom and pop" owned establishment would likely have very few resources and less access to current techniques.
Several studies have evaluated the presence of two or more clerks to reduce the risk of robbery. The findings have been inconsistent, and are highly debated.38 The 1986 Gainesville, Fla., studies concluded that the number of clerks on duty was a strong predictor of robbery potential.39 However, a review of convenience store robberies by the National Association of Convenience Stores in 1997 did not support this conclusion.40
The handling and storage of cash has a significant influence on the targeting of stores for robbery. The Athena Research Corp. studies of armed robbers in 1985 and 1995 have shown that "80 percent of potential robbers can be deterred if a convenience store limits the amount of money kept in its cash register."41 There are a number of cash-control units available to retailers that have both a drop safe and money dispenser, with various access methods. Again, both the ability to purchase such units and the implementation of strict cash protocol depend on the ownership type and structure.
Employers' policies, particularly about firearms in the workplace,§ and various administrative and environmental measures§§ have an impact on workplace violence and homicide rates.42 Furthermore, the combination of inexperienced employees and inadequate training procedures can contribute to higher victimization rates.43 One multistate study found that clerks' behavior might be the most significant factor in determining the extent of injuries during a robbery.44 For instance, injury can be caused by two different offender assaults: the blitz attack, which catches the victim by surprise and is unprovoked by the victim or another, and the response to perceived resistance, which can result from either misreading the employee's nervousness as resistance, or wanting to get in and out of the store as quickly as possible.45 Employees can, in turn, employ certain behavior to keep themselves safe. This includes following the offender's instructions, staying calm and quiet, avoiding eye contact, not making any sudden movements, remaining inside the workplace, not attacking the offender, while making mental notes to provide to the police regarding the offender's physical description.46
§ One study found that there was approximately a "sevenfold increase in the risk of a worker being killed in workplaces that allowed guns," implying that workplaces that respond to a prior experience with crime by allowing firearms may actually be creating a greater risk for workplace homicide by allowing weapons on the premises (Loomis, Marshall, and Ta 2005).
§§ Although some researchers believe that limiting cash on hand to less than $100 could reduce robbery risk and injury rates, other research has found that limiting cash and escape routes can force a robber to take greater risks, thereby potentially increasing employee injury rates. Other suggestions include installing a visible drop safe to allow for natural surveillance throughout the store (Faulkner, Landsittel, and Hendricks 2001).
Like robbers in general, most convenience store robbers are male (95 percent) with about two-thirds of them under the age of 25.47 They are often impulsive and opportunistic, and do limited planning before attempting the actual robbery. Most are seeking quick cash, often to buy drugs. A high proportion report that they were under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs while committing the robbery.48
Serial robbers, particularly those that victimize the same location on more than one occasion, appear to be more professional, even determined, in their approach. They are significantly more likely to carry a gun, to have been in prison before, to wear a disguise, and to choose a specific time for the robbery. They are also more likely to be violent, and cause a higher rate of employee injury.49 Their robberies display distinct geographical patterns over time.50
Since it has been found that certain stores are more vulnerable to repeat victimization, we can conclude that robbers are selecting those stores because of the opportunities they offer for successful completion of a robbery.51 Offenders prefer areas in or near their neighborhoods, thus increasing the risk for those stores in areas where many offenders live.52 However, many factors may affect offender decisions. For example, since offenders commonly use guns in convenience store robberies, some offenders looking for quick cash may think that a weapon overcomes any other obstacles to carrying out the crime. Novice offenders might be less likely to differentiate between low-risk and high-risk targets.53 Robbers commonly consider escape routes an important factor in selecting a target. 54
To limit the risk of apprehension, robbery offenders generally operate at night, when concealment is more likely. Convenience store robberies have been found to be consistent with this time pattern. One study of robberies in 30 Leon County, Florida, convenience stores over a four-year period found significant correlations not only to time but also to day of the week, and month. Fifty percent occurred between 10 p.m. and 12 a.m., generally times when business traffic is minimal. Three days (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) accounted for 60 percent of the robberies. More than 50 percent occurred between November and February, consistent with findings that property crimes occur more frequently during winter months.55
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