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Mar 11 2011

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Robberies Point To Need for Local Businesses to Prepare

By Kim Remesch, Dundalk Business

Nowadays brazen robbers think nothing of walking into a store and demanding money at gunpoint.

It’s not just Dundalk. Workplace violence is a national epidemic. According to The Workplace Violence Research Institute, one in six violent crimes in the United States occurs at work. The statistics include robbery, acts by disgruntled employees and domestic violence involving ex-spouses or family members.

Armed assailants walked away with $10,000 from Constantine “Dino” Frank during a July 2009 robbery. Frank, who owned a vending operation as well as a pool hall in Parkville and Dundalk, knew at least one of his assailants through business as well as socially. Frank was restrained by duct tape and later died from a stroke brought on by that assault. All five men involved in the attack have been found guilty. But that doesn’t bring Frank back to his family, friends and the business community.

Over the last few months, Dundalk Patch has reported on the following:

March 1: A break-in at the Dundalk Pharmacy on Dundalk Avenue.

Feb. 12: An armed robbery at the Merritt BP car wash on Merritt Boulevard.

Feb. 5: A robbery at LoveCraft lingerie, 700 block of Merritt Blvd. Police reports say two men made off with $565.

Jan. 2011: Two separate armed robberies at the McDonald’s restaurant, 717 North Point Rd.

Dec. 2010: A robbery at the Wise Discount Pharmacy, 7800-block of Wise Ave.

Dec. 2010: A robbery at High’s store, 7900 block of Wise Ave.

Nov. 2010: Two armed robberies of Royal Farms in the 12th Precinct District.

I was a reporter for Police Magazine for about 15 years, and one of the original members of the Baltimore County Police and Private Security Association, the brainchild of Ret. Capt. James Scannell of Precinct 12 in North Point more than 20 years ago.

Traditional wisdom dictates that you make your home/business as unappealing to criminals as you can. For example, a business must maintain good, exterior lighting and avoid shrubbery that gives a criminal a place to hide.

But these recent cases go beyond the scope of crimes of convenience.

These criminals are functioning very publicly. The information is not meant to scare you, but as a call to action. Information and numbers offer power. Dundalk business owners need to empower themselves.

First, take the basic measures of providing excellent lighting, making sure your building—exterior and interior—has no blind spots. Install overhead mirrors around the store so employees can see at a glance what is going on.

Second, get a security camera and make sure it is operable. Even though many of the cases mentioned were robbed despite a working security camera, it’s still a deterrent to the disorganized criminal. You’ll avoid that junkie looking for a quick, easy hit.

Moreover, you’ll provide police with information that can be used to arrest and build a case against the criminals, preventing future robberies—maybe even of your own store.

When human beings are afraid, the memory plays tricks and can even block out crucial details. Eyewitnesses are not all that reliable in court trials, particularly if they are still afraid of retribution. That tape will tell the story.

The Jan. 2011 edition of the Baltimore County PD Beat featured an article on basic crime prevention for businesses. According to the article, “if you use a professional security company, ask to have someone come to your business and conduct a thorough check of the system as well as procedures.”

Given the kinds of crimes we’re seeing with Dundalk businesses, we need to take a step beyond basic crime prevention. Businesses need to get organized, devise a “robbery” plan designed for the particular business, then be vigilant in implementing the plan.

Over the years, in the wake of bold armed robberies at banks (heavily guarded with every security measure you can imagine), bank management started devising strategies for surviving a robbery. You want to make sure you and your employees live through a robbery.

I can speak to this from a personal as well as professional point of view. My grandfather, Charles Dorsey Berger, was murdered during an attempted robbery while he was an employee of a laundry delivery service.

He drove a delivery truck, and at one stop a man jumped into his truck and demanded money. The company had provided a safe box which employees cannot access, so there was no money to steal, a fact that annoyed the criminal enough to fatally shoot my grandfather.

Businesses cannot protect against all crimes, unfortunately, but can deter many.

Also, as a business owner you should understand your obligation to protect your employees. In the article “Workplace Violence and Employer Liability,” Norman D. Bates, president of Liability Consultants, Inc., writes: “Federal law (mainly OSHA) dictates that employers provide a safe work environment.”

Workman’s Compensation law protects the employer in many ways from employee lawsuits even when the employee is injured during a criminal act. Gross negligence, however, serves as a mitigating factor. Inadequate lighting in a parking light for employees required to work the late shift falls under that category.

You never know how a jury will think ultimately, and laws change, so why take the risk?

Take charge of your business’ well being by doing the following:

Policy handbook/training. You may have a policy handbook that dictates how your employees should dress, but do you provide guidelines for how an employee should act during a robbery? If not, please read the robbery cases listed above again. It’s real. It’s necessary.

The aim of the policy is to protect human life. Once you get a policy developed and you inform your employees, take time to train them. Think of it like a fire drill. Make sure you play out a scenario so that when fear takes over in the event of a robbery, you/your people act out of training.

Gather Clout. The Baltimore County Police and Private Security Association is an organization made up of local businesses and local law enforcement. You’ll get tips and first-hand information from people who are involved in crime in some way every day. (They also deal with employee theft and loss prevention, among other things, so it’s information any business can use.)

Out Those Seek Who Have Been There. The banking and convenience store industries have been victims of violent crimes so often that they’ve put policies in place to protect employees. The American Bankers Association offers an online course on protecting your business in violent situations. It’s aimed at the banking community, obviously, but the rules apply to many businesses.

Ultimately, regardless of what measures you enact, your primary concern/obligation is to the safety of those working in your business. No one, including you, should be a hero when someone is robbing your business. You may be fed up with crime, but this is not the place to make your stand.

Dino Frank’s killers made off with a mere $10,000. Frank or his family and friends would have written a $10,000 check, no questions asked, if they knew it would have spared his life.


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