By Alan Greggo CPP, CFE
ASIS Retail Asset Protection Community administrator
Big in the news this holiday season is reporting of flash mobs and smash and grab thefts committed by organized groups. USA Today featured a story on 1 December 2021 by Chris Woodyard about a Nordstrom in California being robbed by a storming "criminal mob" of 80 people.
It’s not just department stores that are being victimized. The list includes specialty luxury brands like Coach, Nike, and high-end jewelry stores. The list is much larger than those few examples.
Everyone has an opinion about how to stop these multi-million-dollar thefts, with advice being offered by reporters, security consultants, and even a few personal trainers located in the vicinity of the smash and grab attacks. What do the real experts that protect the assets of retail stores share about this problem?
ASIS International asked the Retail Asset Protection Community for their take on the problem. Here are some thoughts from industry practitioners. Flash mobs and smash and grab robberies have been occurring for many years. What is new here is the magnitude of the thefts and media coverage as the holiday selling season opens.
John Hassard CPP, CFE, LPC, Retail Asset Protection Community member and expert witness/consultant with Robson Forensic, shared a few thoughts about these attacks. From a tactical approach, training should be focused to ensuring safety of employees and customers. Smash and grab (or the related flash mob) generally involve high levels of adrenaline and the potential for attackers to become violent. That is why training and developing that muscle memory in advance is important.
Employees need to know the policy; they must understand why it is set up to ensure the safety of themselves and customers in the area. It is best is to give the "what to do". Attempting to stop attackers or intervene is not wise. Telling employees what they can't do leaves them feeling helpless, and with a feeling that they need to react. What employees can do is locate and identify all customers and get them to safety away from the attack. Second might be to remember as much about what happened and what the attackers looked like. Most retail stores have camera systems that will provide overview, but close details will be helpful for responding police investigators.
Hassard shared the strategic approaches as improving technology like more powerful camera systems that allow for detailed facial recognition. Many retailers have focus teams on intelligence using technology and social media to track and deploy resources. This is especially important if the attacks could be discovered during the planning efforts of the groups. Another technology includes physical merchandise security designed to harden the target stores, lock up very high-ticket items and connecting them to alarms.
This concept is the prevention of these incidents, making them less desirable/riskier for the perpetrators, and increasing ability to investigate and recover after the fact. CPTED can achieve this through planning how retail stores are constructed, for example fewer large windows around the exterior of the building, use of external window grates over the windows or making them more resistant to breaking.
Keith Aubele, CPP and CEO of Nav1gate Group, works with many retailers, including Walmart, Inc. Mr. Aubele agreed that the defensive planning is extremely important for asset protection and loss prevention leaders to get right. Retailers should complete comprehensive security risk surveys to identify the risk factors that are relevant in today’s market. Risk surveys can become outdated rather quickly and need update almost annually to properly understand the latest trends these attackers are using.
Alan Bennett, a retail security practitioner in the United Kingdom shared retail loss prevention teams must be alert and need to work in groups and in union with law enforcement, when possible. Use of closed-circuit TV to track where merchandise is being removed is essential to be relayed to responding police. Experienced security officers, in these high adrenaline incidents, must remain calm and focus on facts like direction of exit, vehicle details, the time and descriptions of the thieves. Many of these security officers will recognize the thieves from prior repeat thefts.
From the perspective of Dave Hubert, Business Development Manager at Isoclima Specialty Glass, LLC, experts have recognized most attacks/breaches are concentrated on perceived weaknesses: the glass of storefronts, entrances and displays. Traditionally these are “Safety Glass” products which meet minimum Architectural Building Safety Codes. They offer high visibility with minimal distortion but have little-to-no Forced Entry Attack resistance. Retailers traditionally use Low-E Tempered Glass, and these products are easily breached by attackers, as we’ve seen in the news by beating the windows with bats and rocks. A new technology of Retail/K-12 Security Glass has been developed that offers significant Forced Entry Delay from a physical assault, high optical properties, glass on both sides (no scratching or marring) and fits into commercial framing systems. Find out more about hardened glass here: https://vimeo.com/173110151
In closing, all this advice is great and worth considering. What works for one retailer, may not be just right for another, so involving all stakeholders in the decision-making process is going to add strength to prevention and preparedness actions of each business.
We would be remiss by not addressing the real “elephant in the room”. Retail organizations, such as the National Retail Federation have lobbied to pass national legislation to address Organized Retail Crime (ORC) for close to twenty years. Having a national law to describe what ORC is and mandate meaningful penalties for criminals would be a giant step in the right direction. Retail asset protection leaders have testified in front of congress to explain why (losing billions every year) a national bill is needed.
Recently, states like California and New York passed bail reform bills making it literally painless for shoplifters and organized theft gangs to operate. If they get caught, they likely would not be arrested, and would not spend one day in jail. They would be released to the street to commit the same crime, sometimes the same day. No incentive exists for suspects to appear for their court date. If we really want to do something about smash and grab and organized gang crimes, we need to address the ineffective laws we have both nationally and at state levels.