Robberies and armed hold-ups are serious and potentially dangerous crimes that can cause emotional and psychological distress to victims even when they are not physically hurt. Particularly at risk are businesses that hold large amounts of money, that trade late in the night, that have few employees on site, that regularly deal face-to-face with customers or are located in an isolated area.
Under Australian workplace safety legislation all businesses have a legal duty to provide a safe workplace, so they need to be thoroughly prepared for the possibility of a robbery on their premises. By following the simple and practical guidelines given in this booklet you can reduce the likelihood of your business becoming a victim of robbery. The aim is to decrease the reward for the robber and make it more likely that he or she will get caught. Your staff will also be better trained to respond to a robbery by providing police with a detailed description that will help them to catch the offender(s).
Remember, when you are planning how to react to a robbery, the most important consideration is personal safety.
How to reduce the risk of robbery and/or minimise loss
‘Design out’ the would-be robbers by improving your cash area and practices in ways that make it harder for them to commit a robbery. For example:
- Maintain a workplace that is highly visible from the street. This makes your business less appealing to a potential robber and makes detection more likely. It can be done by maintaining a well-lit interior so that people outside can see into the premises, and also by having good exterior lighting, including sensor lights, so that you and your staff can easily see outside. If you have signs, posters and displays, make sure that these don’t obstruct the view of the customer service area. Any shrubbery or trees that a thief could use to hide in should be cut back and well maintained.
- Prominently display good-quality digitalised closed-circuit television (CCTV) surveillance equipment. Be sure to have the equipment serviced regularly. CCTV equipment needs to be of sufficient quality to produce clear images which will help identify offenders. Also, you should maintain a register that records appropriate information about the surveillance equipment, including who changes the discs, and relevant times and dates. These records might be required in any subsequent court hearing. Don’t be tempted to use phoney signs or equipment. The use of fake surveillance cameras, for instance, can destroy the credibility of all your security precautions. Robbers soon learn to ignore them, and will feel all the safer because your real defences are quite obviously incomplete.
- Have devices that give employees a complete view of their surroundings. In a retail business these might be convex mirrors, or an elevated vantage point, and siting of the employee/customer service and cash register area so that it is clearly visible from the street. This can serve as a deterrent.
- The counter or work area should be wide and elevated to provide safety for employees. It should also be cleaned regularly to remove old fingerprints. This increases the chance that a robber may leave a readable print behind. Do not use oil- or wax-based cleansers.
- Secure the teller and cashier operations, including fixing any cash registers securely to the counter. Install barriers to keep unauthorised people out of these areas.
- Have an up-to-date list of emergency contacts near the telephone. Keep witness description forms readily available for employees and other witnesses to complete after any robbery has occurred.
- Install a silent alarm system. The system could be one that can be unobtrusively activated by an employee who is forced to open the safe or vault. The alarm should be tested periodically and serviced to correct any malfunction. Whenever it is accidentally set off, or malfunctions, this should be immediately reported to the police so that they are aware that it has been a false alarm.
- Ensure that you have storage rooms with locks that can be opened from the inside: robbers sometimes lock employees in storage rooms. If you do have a room whose lock can’t be unlatched from the inside, hide its spare key in there.
- For secure areas, use doors and gates with latches that automatically lock on closing.
- Use a dual-key, drop or delay-action time-lock safe.
- Keep all seldom-used rear and side doors, windows, and other accessible openings locked. Doors should have viewers, and doors used for deliveries should always be kept locked when not in use.
- To help your staff identify the height of a robber, mark the edge of the delivery doorway and main doorways at varying heights with coloured height markers.
- In high-risk businesses, install physical barriers such as bullet-resistant enclosures between customers and employees to provide the greatest protection for workers. Installing pass-through windows for customer transactions and limiting entry to only authorised persons during certain hours of operation may also be necessary.
Standard Workplace Practices
Make it hard for robbers by adopting safer work practices. For instance:
- Make sure all employees, new and old, know how, when, and when not, to activate the alarm. Procedures should also be periodically reviewed with those employees who need to know.
- Train all employees to watch for and report any suspicious actions of people inside and immediately outside the premises.
- Don’t hesitate to call the police when you are worried about even a potential risk. If the suspected person goes away before the police officer’s arrival, write down your description of the suspect and their vehicle. A suspected person may be in fact be planning a robbery by looking at, among other things, the security operations and cash-handling practices of the business. Some examples of suspicious activity are people monitoring your business operations; people asking about regular closing times or volume of business; the amount of money on hand etc.; people who seem to just loiter in the area and may be checking the business layout and operations; and people who may be waiting for a lull in activity and fewer customers.
- Give every customer entering the business a friendly greeting. Look each customer directly in the eyes. A robber does not want to be identified and direct eye contact may deter some would-be thieves.
- Require your employees to ask tradespeople, repair workers, guards, police officers and others for identification before allowing them entry into secured areas.
- Whenever possible, try to have at least two employees on duty at all times. Employing two counter-staff at once is a form of “target hardening” – it may make a robbery more difficult to complete and therefore less attractive to the potential robber. This could be worth the extra staffing cost.
- Make it obvious that the business uses good cash-protection techniques and good protection equipment. By using visual deterrents (placards, signs, etc.) to publicise this message, you are letting potential robbers know that their profits will be small and their risks high.
- Liaise with your local police station to assist with your robbery procedures. This is advisable so that both police and your employees will know what actions to take and what to expect in the event of a robbery.
- Make sure that emergency telephone numbers and other vital contact numbers (owner of the premises, security firm, etc.) are easily visible to all staff.
- If you are in a high-risk area or running a high-risk business, consider using still more deterrents. These may include the presence of uniformed guards and/or the use of an armoured car service for delivery and pick-up of cash.
Regular on-site training should be given a high priority. Employees need to be trained in the latest methods of robbery prevention, as it will improve their personal safety and their ability to provide information that could help in the apprehension of the criminals. Also, this preparation can lessen the emotional after-effects of being involved in a robbery.
Opening and closing procedures
Whenever possible, try to have several employees present when opening and closing your premises. The following precautions will help make opening and closing safer:
- On arrival each day, inspect the premises for forcible entry before you go in.
- One employee should search the premises before admitting the others. If all clear, the employee who has checked the premises can inform the others with a prearranged signal.
- At closing, make sure no-one is hiding on the premises.
- Also at closing, one employee can enter the carpark first and can signal a companion with some prearranged sign if it is safe.
- Arrange to phone a family member by a given time upon arriving at work each day, so that they know you are safe. Similarly, let the family know of your departure and when to expect you home.
Every business should operate a cash-protection system. Each employee handling cash should be trained in the various possible types of attack, and should follow good cash-handling practices. The cash system should work in two ways, protecting both lives and money. Make periodic checks to be sure that all cash-protection rules are being obeyed. By following the laid-down cash-handling procedures, the business will be a less attractive target and will limit any robber’s profit while also reducing the business’s potential loss.
- Keep only a minimum of easily accessible cash on hand, both in cash drawers and in the safe. During evening and late-night hours of operation, cash levels should be kept to a minimal amount per cash register to conduct business. Use special quick-deposit drop safes in which money can be easily deposited when there is an accumulation of funds. Keep reserve funds locked in a money safe and deliver new funds to the cash drawers only when required.
- Use a money safe that requires more than one employee to open and remove daily receipts. Always lock money safes immediately after the day’s operating funds are obtained. Serious loss can be reduced by having special, separately locked, inner compartments or lockers where the change funds are maintained. Dual control of safes, and of two-key inner-compartment money safes, requires at least two people to open the door, and this makes robbery much more difficult.
- Try not to open the cash safe too often.
- Do not keep surplus cash in the customer service area; only keep what is absolutely necessary.
- Always keep money out of reach of customers.
- Bank-teller station counters should be designed to keep money out of sight.
- Make sure employees do not display, count or balance large amounts of money in areas that are visible either to the public or to other employees. Large amounts of money exposed to view represent a temptation not only to robbers but to employees and customers alike. Cash balancing should be done in an office or other secure area that is less visible and vulnerable than the checkout area.
- Exercise plenty of caution when making bank deposits. The precautions include:
- Trying to make bank deposits during daylight hours and with more than one person.
- Varying the choice of route to the bank.
- Not making any stops on the way.
- Varying the time of day the deposit is made.
- Disguising the currency bags in plain wrappings or placing them within another container (a briefcase, for example).
- Varying the personnel doing the deposit, if possible.
- Varying the vehicle used.
- Requesting police or armed-guard protection when handling or transporting large amounts of money.
Preparing against a robbery
Proper training for employees in the procedures they should follow during a robbery is vital to effectively responding to the confrontation. Conduct documented training and discussion periods so that every employee knows their role and has an opportunity to ask questions. A few minutes of brief review on a regular basis will help to ensure the proper reaction in the event of a robbery. The overriding consideration in dealing with a robbery is to reduce the possibility of injury.
Displaying “CODE A”
“CODE A” is a useful guideline sheet (with its own built-in C-O-D-E A acronym for easy memorising) that can be used to prompt staff as to what to do during and immediately after a robbery. Here is what it says:
Remain calm and tell yourself to remain calm.
Do not resist the robber. Don’t be a hero. The money is not worth risking a life for.
Do not take action that would jeopardise the safety of personnel or customers. In most situations, robbers won’t harm a person who cooperates. Do not use or encourage the use of weapons against the robber. Introducing another weapon into the situation increases the chances of someone becoming injured during the robbery. No amount of money is worth the risk of endangering a person’s life.
Try to inform the robbers of any surprises. If someone is expected back soon, or if you must reach out or move in any way, tell the robber what to expect so that he or she will not be startled. An unexpected move by an employee may trigger a violent reaction endangering the lives of many people.
Follow the robber’s commands, but do not volunteer information or assistance. The longer the robbery takes, the more nervous the robber may become and therefore the more apt to become violent. If the robber demands a specific amount of money, give them only the amount they demand.
Try to include “bait money” along with other cash. This “bait money” could be a bundle of currency with concealed dye packs or with previously recorded serial numbers. (Record the denomination, serial numbers and year of the several tens and twenties on a piece of paper which you then keep separate from the cash register.)
If the robber displays a firearm, or even just claims to have one, consider it to be loaded and able to be used. Try to alert other employees to the situation by using prearranged signals.
Be observant. Plan to be a good witness.
Try to notice as much as possible about the robber or robbers yourself, without discussion with other witnesses. Make mental notes of the following:
- The number of robbers.
- Physical characteristics, including: race, sex, age, height, weight, build, facial characteristics (head shape, colour of hair, colour of eyes, shape of eyes, nose, mouth, etc.), tattoos, scars, marks and/or other distinguishing features, right-handed or left-handed, clothing worn, other peculiarities exhibited by the robber (for example, smelled of alcohol, appeared to be “high” on drugs, etc.).
- Behaviour. Speech patterns (accents, language used), nicknames, actions/interactions with other offenders, any names used by the robbers.
- Other relevant aspects. Description of any written note they present, type and description of weapon used, method of escape, vehicles used for escape, direction of travel when escaping.
Remember to safeguard all possible evidence.
Be aware of where the offender went in the premises and what was touched. Secure it and don’t touch it yourself or let anyone else touch it.
Activate the hold-up alarm if possible, but only if it can be done safety. Call the police. Do not try to set off the alarm (silent or other) or call the police while the robber is still present on the premises unless it can be done without being obvious to the robber. The silent alarm may be designed to self-activate when the bait money is removed, but often it can’t be activated safely until a robber leaves.
Procedures for after a robbery
By following a known set of procedures after a robbery, each business employee will be in a better position to help police arrest the robber, and, more importantly, to protect all employees and innocent customers from harm.
Management should establish in advance which personnel will take certain actions if a robbery occurs. Decide now which employee will lock the doors, who will call the police, who will care for anyone injured, who will look for the getaway car, and who will protect the evidence. Don’t assume these jobs will just happen automatically.
If a robbery occurs, employees should follow these steps:
- Do not immediately chase after a robber. The robber may shoot at, or attack, any pursuers. Responding police might even shoot at you, mistaking you for an escaping robber.
- Secure the doors so that the robbers can’t re-enter the premises. Stop the business operations and place a sign on the door telling customers that the business is “Temporarily closed due to an emergency.” Do not let anyone in except emergency personnel.
- Call the police immediately using the emergency calls number – 000. Be sure to tell them if anyone is injured, so that an ambulance can be dispatched if necessary. Give the police the time of the robbers’ departure, their description and their direction and method of travel. Stay on the phone until you are told that it is okay to hang up. The speed and detail of your reporting is critical to getting the offender intercepted.
- Care for any injured people.
- If it can be safely done as the robbers leave, try to note their exact method of escape as well as their direction of travel. If they use a vehicle, try to find out its make, colour, type, number-plate registration and State/Territory of registration.
- Try to preserve any potential evidence. Protect the scene of the crime and do not touch anything the robber may have touched. Keep people out of the area.
- Write down a description of the robber independently of other witnesses. Witness description forms should have been made up for this purpose, but if these aren’t available use any available paper. Do not discuss or compare notes with others until a police officer arrives and conducts necessary interviews.
- Ask witnesses to stay until police arrive. If they insist on leaving, try and obtain their names and addresses, or at least their names and phone numbers.
- Contact anyone else who may need to be informed of what has happened (owner of the premises, security firm, etc.). Emergency telephone numbers should be accessible and the notification policy clearly established and known to all staff.
- Do not discuss the crime with outsiders, including media, until police give you permission to do so. Refer all questions to the police.
- Do not tell anyone how much money was stolen, or give any estimate of it, unless absolutely necessary. The police can list the amount taken as an “undetermined amount of cash” until the exact amount is determined in an audit. Find out and record anything else that may have been stolen. If an exact amount of cash taken during a robbery is released to the media and they report a large loss, other robbers could be attracted to the business or to others in the chain of businesses.
- Assist the investigating officers in every way possible. Cooperate with the police by being available for interview, and be willing to identify suspects and to give evidence in court when notified to do so.
Trauma of a robbery
It is important to recognise that the effects of a robbery can vary greatly between victims. You can aid a victim’s recovery by:
- Providing or facilitating immediate medical treatment, where necessary.
- Providing immediate and on-going support, including supplying the victim with information and access to specialist services (counselling services and the like).
- Arranging for the victim to have some time off work.
Risk Assessment – Yes and No Checklist
- Does your business hold large amounts of money?
- Does your business trade late in the night?
- Does your business have few employees on site?
- Does your business deal face-to-face with customers?
- Is your business located in an isolated area?
- Is your business highly visible from the street?
- Do trees, shrubbery or internal posters block the view from the windows?
- Do you display good-quality digitalised CCTV?
- Do employees have a complete view of the surroundings and use convex mirrors for any blind spots?
- Is your counter or work area high enough to protect your employees?
- Is the cash register securely fixed to the counter?
- Do you maintain a list of emergency contacts near the telephone?
- Do you have a silent alarm?
- Do you have height markers positioned at all entry/exit points?
- Are you a high-risk business that should consider the installation of physical barriers?
- Are all your employees provided with consistent and regular security training?
- Are staff required to record and report to management any suspicious people or behaviour?
- Have you contacted your local police station to assist with your robbery procedures?
- Do you practise police-recommended opening and closing procedures?
- Are all staff trained in safe cash-handling practices?
- Do you keep only a minimum of easily accessible cash on hand?
- Do you use a duel-key, drop or delay-action time-lock safe that requires two employees to open it?
- Are all staff familiar with CODE A?
- Is the CODE A poster prominently displayed in the workplace?
Wherever your “Yes” or “No” answer to any of those questions suggests that security in your business needs to be upgraded, please re-read this publication and/or consult with your local police station.
- State Community Policing Services – (03) 6173 2627
- Emergency Calls (Police, Fire, Ambulance) – Triple Zero (000)
- Tasmania Police (For non-urgent matters) – 131 444
- Crime Stoppers (anonymous) – 1800 333 000
- Victim of Crime Service – 1300 300 238
Other useful crime-prevention resources for business:
- Australian Institute of Criminology – www.aic.gov.au
- Tasmania Police – www.police.tas.gov.au
Tasmania Police wish to acknowledge South Australia Police for materials provided for this booklet.