For decades, police and law enforcement agencies across the country have adopted the Motto “To Protect and Serve.”
In light of recent events–bombings in Boston, shootings in Newtown and the all-too-common armed robberies, are we nearing the tipping point when it becomes a retail mantra? It’s clear that the constant threat of violence, to which we have become so desensitized, has become the new normal and retailers who are in denial or choose to ignore the situation, are just making their stores, employees and customers very tempting targets.
Retail is among the most vulnerable to these despicable acts by the disenfranchised among us. We invite people in, encourage them to roam stores freely, to handle the merchandise and basically, to come and go as they please. It is our industry’s raison d’être, and we couldn’t operate any other way.
But this welcoming atmosphere has a potentially dark side. Thousands and thousands of armed robberies and random shootings take place at retail every year. No one knows exactly how many because there is no central database. Many take place in jewelry and convenience stores. But supermarkets, drug and specialty stores are also favorite targets. Basically, no one is immune.
Retail is the anchor in many communities and must be seen as a safe haven. But the truth is that security for customers and employees is virtually non-existent. And if it does exist, it’s there to protect assets not people.
But the question of what to do can lead to a slippery slope. Although most states have concealed carry laws, you can request that people not bring firearms into the stores. Yet no one in their right mind would think of patting down customers before allowing them into the local supermarket or have armed security roaming the aisles at Nordstrom’s.
A more benign method is video surveillance, which has become extremely sophisticated, but not as widely used in retail as it should be due to cost and manpower issues. Ask yourself whether you can focus solely on the bottom line when it comes to thwarting robberies, shootings, carjackings, or child abductions. Target has taken this to a new level with its own forensics lab that assists law enforcement in analyzing video and fingerprints. This undoubtedly raises the ire of privacy advocates who would like nothing better than to force the government and private companies to shut down what they call “dragnet-style” video surveillance of the type used to identify the Boston bombing suspects. For better or worse, the right to bear arms is in the Constitution, the right to privacy is not.
At the very least, retailers must forge stronger ties with local law enforcement. I’m not talking about giving the cop on the beat free lunch and a bottle of Johnny Walker at Christmas for a few extra drive-bys. LEOs, law enforcement officers to the uninitiated, are hungry for good intel and welcome the opportunity to build relationships with local businesses that can help them identify suspects or suspicious behavior. Beyond that, government agencies like Homeland Security and ATF have a wealth of information on their websites that can instruct retailers on how to deal with different scenarios like “active shooters.”
Retailing has done a brilliant job entertaining and welcoming people into the fold. Maybe it’s time to protect them as well.