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Focus on the fundamentals.


RETAIL SECURITY TECHNOLOGY HAS made great strides in recent years. With increased sophistication comes the temptation to focus on the latest electronic wonder drug as a solution to all security problems. While promising new technology may be a cost-effective solution in some cases, inadequate control of this technology may replace old problems with new ones. Managers need to step back and be sure they are applying security fundamentals first.

Many managers establish sound security policies. Without aggressive auditing, however, front line employees may find ignoring these measures expedient. Security managers should remember they are employed because of Murphy's Law of Human Nature: Some people will steal anything not nailed down and some things that are.

The first important question for managers to ask is how employees enter and leave a store. Do they use a front door, an employee entrance, or a handy side or rear door left open for service technicians? Most, if not all, stores require use of specific, monitored doors. This policy is difficult to enforce, however, without efforts by on-site management. Public, nonemployee doors can be watched periodically by security personnel able to recognize store employees.

Emergency-only exits present another problem because they cannot be locked to prevent egress. But alarms and closed-circuit television (CCTV) can be installed to annunciate, observe, and record the use of a door. Suitable alarms range from inexpensive buzzers on doors, some of which can be tied into a central panel, to expensive delayed systems, which alarm when the exit bar is pushed but do not allow the door to open for 15 to 30 seconds.

While rear doors are commonly used for a variety of reasons, ranging from trash removal to ventilation, ideally their use should be restricted to emergency egress. Any employee use of unauthorized entrances or exits is then grounds for an investigation, disciplinary action, or both. Using the front or other watched entrance as a choke point is also a psychological barrier to anyone trying to remove merchandise with the trash or sneak a package out during a break or before or after work.

Stores are not always willing or able to enforce proper security measures. A security survey of a chain of women's clothing stores several years ago revealed startling information. The survey report indicated that outside key access to a store's secluded rear door should be removed. The district manager explained, however, that the outside access was necessary. The chain distributed its own goods from a central warehouse, and drivers made deliveries in the middle of the night. In this case, the mall the store was part of was unwilling to allow after-hours deliveries to be made from inside the mall, where security officers could watch and make access to the back rooms unnecessary. The chain was also unwilling to give up the speed of night deliveries.

Just inside the rear door was a stockroom where deliveries were left. Stockroom shelving and clothes racks were fill to the ceiling. What an opportunity for the delivery driver and store personnel! Unless someone is caught in the act, obtaining enough evidence to support disciplinary action is difficult, particularly when no one is responsible for keeping track of goods.

In small stores that do not have segregated receiving areas, deliveries should be brought in the front door, even though this may not be desirable aesthetically. Store personnel should also check and sign for all deliveries in the presence of the delivery person. Store employees who are too busy or not trained to supervise deliveries adequately are security handicaps. Delivery personnel are presented with too great an opportunity for theft as they bring merchandise in a rear door and stack it next to other unchecked merchandise or stockroom overflow.

STOCKROOMS ARE ANOTHER AREA difficult to control. They are by nature secluded locations and afford many opportunities for employee theft. A surprising number of stores use a corner of the stockroom as a launchroom or manager's office. Access to this area should be controlled to achieve reasonable accountability for stockroom contents.

For some stores, measures can be as simple as having managers control the only keys to a lock. Other stores may want to use individually locked cages for valuables. Larger stores may assign one person to pull all items from a stockroom and produce all paperwork required to audit inventory. In every situation, stockroom access should be limited to the minimum amount of time and number of trips necessary. The number of keys should be limited, preferably to one, requiring the manager to open the door each time someone enters, unless employees are stationed inside full-time. Preventing a busy manager from handing an employee a ring of store keys is a policy that can only be enforced through regular auditing.

Key control is a battle against convenience. The several ways to fight this battle all cost money. First is the method with the least initial cost but higher maintenance cost. Stores keep the hardware they have but rekey locks any time they change managers or a nonmanager leaves the store with the keys. At the other end of the scale, stores can replace their hardware with a patent protected type such as Medeco or Abloy disk lock and rekey only when a key is missing. The patent protection means that unless stores are involved in spyvs-spy activities, when the keys come back, security can assume no copies were made.

Key control can always be varied to meet the needs of different stores. One example is the system adopted by a nationwide retailer of consumer electronics and parts. This retailer has Medeco level III locks in each of its stores and has its own personnel change out locks. These level III locks are no longer patent protected. However, a particular key blank has not been made available from either aftermarket key blank manufacturers or from Medeco - except to authorized key users - thus making it extremely difficult to have duplicates made. Finally, interchangeable core locks made by Best, Falcon, Medeco, and others allow for quick lock changes in the field by any authorized person.

Employee lockers can also be trouble spots, possibly requiring aid from the personnel department. A search agreement signed as a condition of employment is advisable. The agreement should acknowledge the company's right to search any locker at any time - in the employee's presence if during his or her shift - for any reason. The agreement should clearly state that any weapons, alcohol, unpurchased merchandise, or illegal drugs found are grounds for immediate disciplinary action, including dismissal. Legal counsel should examine the document as requirements may vary by jurisdiction and industry.

Lockers should be no larger than needed for storing uniforms, if applicable, and limited personal effects such as a purse and jacket. A company should provide built-in locks, carefully control the master key, and allow no other locks to be placed on lockers. These policies will help eliminate complaints from employees about broken locks after a search and problems of authorized personnel not gaining quick access to lockers when needed.

To avoid liability, managers should exercise search rights on a continuing basis. This procedure prevents the agreement from being viewed as a mere formality. It also prevents employees from developing a reasonable expectation of privacy or legitimately claiming management's past practice was to open lockers only after employees quit or were terminated. Past practice is, loosely, an assertion by an employee or union that, at the time a contract was made, some conditions or procedures - usually not mentioned specifically - went without saying because they had always been a certain way.

This interpretation is not specifically related to locker searches. However, it could have legal standing in an unfair labor practices suit if after a period of few or no searches, an increase in searches appeared discriminatory, accusatory, or retaliatory. Again, obtaining legal advice before disseminating or enforcing a search policy is advisable.

FITTING ROOMS ARE ANOTHER DIFFICULT area to control due to privacy issues. Long gone are the days when covert surveillance was conducted. For security, fitting rooms should have a single entrance that can be locked when no attendant or clerk is in the area. This prevents thieves from exiting near clerks who are not familiar with the items taken into a room. Rooms should be kept clear of merchandise at all times and checked at closing for people staying behind. Stalls should not give unnecessary privacy to potential thieves, using partitions that descend to only a foot or so off the floor and curtains instead of doors. Checking rooms during the night and just before opening is also wise. Any signs of overnight use warrant investigation.

Blind spots on a sales floor are another problem. They may provide opportunities for theft and remove psychological barriers. Thieves should think they can be seen no matter where they go in a store. Careful aisle arrangement and limited display height increase the chances of detecting thieves. Strategically placed two-way mirrors, including the camera-hiding ceiling type, can raise the perceived risk of detection far above what a thief is willing to take. A word of caution is in order: If employees know mirrors are fake or unused, word may get around. Employees should be led to believe cameras are in operation and are at least periodically watched.

Stores should also install real two-way mirrors, even if they are not intended for use, and quality fake CCTV cameras. Cheap imitations are sometimes obvious. Therefore, they are of limited effectiveness and a partial, if not total, waste of time and money. Deterrence is a result of what thieves think a store's security level is.

Neat geometric displays of valuable merchandise make a missing item obvious. Jewelry store display methods should be noted as examples. The number of slots in a tray is not coincidentally equal to the number of rings. This technique can be used to monitor lesser priced items as well, if a display can be refilled after each purchase.

Attentive salespeople are a shoplifter's nemesis. Those who have entered a store to steal do not want to be noticed. A simple, "I'll be right with you" from a busy store employee can often make a thief uncomfortable enough to go elsewhere.

CHECK AND CREDIT CARD ACCEPTANCE is one task where most managers claim they have thorough compliance with procedures. Some security measures, however, are commonly overlooked. Cashiers must watch customers sign their names in order to verify the signature and see whether it is written right side up. Some forgers sign checks upside down. Clerks must also look at the picture on identification and a customer's face to be sure they match. Many stolen checks along with stolen IDs have been sucessfully passed by people of the wrong sex, age, or race.

Cashiers should also briefly check for signs of alteration. Misaligned numbers on credit cards and typed-in information on checks are signals to pay attention to a transaction. Where credit cards are kept should also be noted. People normally carry them in a wallet with their driver's license. Most people possessing stolen cards keep them in a shirt pocket or in a purse outside the wallet containing their real ID. This separation is to avoid detection by police if stopped for an unrelated matter such as a traffic citation.

During one arrest, a search of a suspect's purse revealed many driver's licenses bearing different names and social security numbers, all with her picture, along with credit cards under each name. Only one license and set of credit cards was in her wallet, while the rest were in various pockets inside her purse. The only reason the suspect was detected was that a clerk remembered cashing a check for her under a different name a month earlier at another location.

Returned goods provide an opportunity for clerks and cashiers to manipulate data in their favor. One safeguard is to require managers to see a customer and the merchandise before signing an authorization slip. The reasoning behind this precaution is that any cashier can hold back a few receipts, claim them for returns a day or two later, and pocket the cash. Although managers are undoubtedly busy, they should be called to the cash register to authorize return transactions. A cashier should not be allowed to seek out a manager.

To beat this system, an employee has to locate a nonemployee to pose as a customer. One of the conspirators also has to select the proper merchandise and bring it to the cash register along with a spare receipt before the manager is called. This extra trouble and risk reduces the number of employees willing to try to steal in this manner. This system is also a strong argument for requiring a receipt to be given with each transaction and enforcing severe penalties for noncompliance. One national drug store chain has signs at each register promising $5 to anyone notifying a manager that he or she was not given a receipt.

As for all the sophisticated equipment security managers now have or want to purchase, remember Murphy's Law of Equipment Use: Every problem solved lays the groundwork for two additional problems. The only way to keep problems from unexpectedly springing up is to determine all possible ways of beating the system and install adequate procedural controls by the time the equipment goes on-line.

One procedural control is making full use of equipment safeguards. One piece of equipment loaded with potential safeguards is a bar code reader interfaced with a point of sale terminal and central store computer. (It's not just a cash register anymore.) Retailers have been told a prominent security feature is the automatic pricing capability, which "eliminates" errors and sweethearting. (Many security professionals have learned to cringe at words like eliminate and guarantee from repeated exposure to reality.) Looking at the inventory reconciliation report, data that many managers are not presently making full use of, shows merchandise shortage as well as key relationships. (See the accompanying chart.)

Two irregularities jump off this spreadsheet. First is the set of brackets around the short row of Blouse 3, indicating an overage. This drastic overage could have several explanations. After a check for inventory bookkeeping and accounting errors, the most likely explanation is that the bar code from this type of blouse was used to ring up sales of more expensive items.

The second pronounced item is the percentage of returns under Dress 2. An amount of returns this far out of the norm indicates receipts are being held or fabricated for phony returns. The correlation between price and quantity short may be explained by shoplifters preferring some of the higher-priced items. More likely, however, a cashier is scanning a spare bar code label from a Blouse 3 when selling any number of more expensive items to friends. Although an investigation of employees is definitely in order here, managers may want to compare their data with other stores in the chain before deciding what type of investigation is warranted.

Security managers should use these suggestions and considerations to assess and improve their security measures. Solving retail security problems is no easy task. Managers should not handicap themselves with a lack of information. Above all, they should never lose sight of the basics.

About the Author . . . James D. Marshall, CPP, is a security consultant and owner of a locksmith service in southern California. He teaches access control system design and legal topics for the California Locksmiths Association. He is a member of ASIS.
COPYRIGHT 1989 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:retail security
Author:Marshall, James D.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Dec 1, 1989
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