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Mitigating violence in retail stores

Retailers must take a serious look at how they train staff and keep their employees and customers safe
security camera

Hand in hand with the rise in retail crime is a rise in violence in retail stores. 

“Every day now, we hear about violent incidents. We hear about incidents where weapons are utilized,” says Rui Rodrigues, executive advisor, loss prevention and risk management at Retail Council of Canada (RCC). “Pre-2019, we may have heard about that once every three months. Now, it’s every day.” 

That means retailers must take a serious look at how they train staff and keep their employees and customers safe. As it’s doing with theft prevention, RCC advocates for collaboration with local police services, courts and government agencies. 

It’s also working with partners to develop de-escalation training and best practices that can be used by retailers and their employees. For Rexall, having intel on repeat offenders [via its retail crime intelligence and loss prevention platform] helps frontline employees stop thieves in their tracks. 

READ: The battle against retail theft and loss

“When a cashier starts their shift, they get to look through [reports and dashboards] and see all these people who we’re aware of – and that they should be aware of,” says Daryl Blackmore, director of asset protection at Rexall. “If that person walks through the door, it hopefully doesn’t take [long] for them … to be noticed and identified. It’s that first cashier having the ability to call out to that person saying, ‘Hey, you’re not allowed to be in here. You’ve already been told your business isn’t welcome here. You need to leave. I’m calling the police.’” 

Blackmore maintains this is the company’s best defence. “These people don’t want to be acknowledged or recognized. As soon as you make that connection, they typically leave the store. It avoids so much of the violence that we’ve seen because you don’t end up having that interaction at the point of it already being an issue.” 

Nada Ebeid is director of signature brands in Canada for Genetec, which offers physical security solutions such as video surveillance systems, access control and automatic licence plate recognition. 

In Ebeid’s view, having proper situational awareness is the best strategy to mitigate retail violence, which includes having real-time information on what’s going on. Retailers can also automate triggers to deter or de-escalate situations in stores. 

READ: Escalating theft and violence aside, London Drugs not considering closures: president

For example, if a retailer is monitoring what’s happening in stores and the system detects loud screaming at a location, that could trigger an audio message over the PA system directed at the affected employee. It would say something along the lines of, “We see what’s going on … a manager will be there shortly to support you.” 

“Let’s say [the perpetrator] was me. If I hear an audio message saying what I’m doing right now is being witnessed by those beyond the person in front of me … I may think twice,” says Ebeid. “All of these things would help de-escalate. It’s difficult to say that technology will eliminate it. It’s more about being able to react quickly in the right way. And the best way of doing that is having the information in real time so that you can make those decisions.” 

WATCH THE WEBINAR: How to help prevent store violence and improve operations 

With these technologies, privacy is extremely important, she adds. 

“As retailers consider implementing more technology to help [mitigate violence], respecting the privacy of all is key.” That means having the proper cybersecurity mechanisms in place and choosing technologies that follow the best practices of cybersecurity. But it doesn’t end there, adds Ebeid. “It’s also [making] decisions on how you choose to store [and share] the data, whether it be with internal or external stakeholders.”

This article first appeared in Canadian Grocer’s November 2023 issue.

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