As a security operative, you may one day find yourself caught between a would-be robber and their intended prize – but what should you do if you find yourself in this situation? What are the appropriate responses? When does the risk to yourself or others become too great to intervene?
In this feature, we will attempt to answer these (and other) pertinent questions about robbery.
Anatomy of a Robbery
Although the fear of being robbed is a common anxiety for members of the British public, it is statistically very unlikely to happen to them. In fact, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has stated that the fear of being robbed is some 30 times higher than the actual rate of victimisation. Nevertheless, it pays to be prepared.
Typically, any attempted robbery will take one of two forms. It will either be a methodical, premeditated event, complete with careful planning and preparation, or an opportunistic attempt to quickly gain a large amount of money or valuables. Both can be successful under the right circumstances – and all robberies are fraught with danger to security operatives and patrons alike.
A planned robbery will likely involve its perpetrator(s) visiting the site before the event itself, mainly to gain first-hand knowledge of aspects such as security camera placements, number of security operatives active at any given time and other variables that could impede a clean getaway.
You can often tell a planned robbery by the speed with which it takes place, the apparent collectedness of the thieves and the discipline with which the robbery is carried out.
Recognising a planned robbery raises the possibility of capturing evidence of the perpetrators carrying out reconnaissance prior to the robbery and can aid in a conviction as a result.
An unplanned, or opportunistic robbery, by comparison, is a crime committed on impulse. Perpetrators may be driven to such acts by desperation or may simply be taking advantage of what they see as an opportunity to make some easy money.
Unplanned robberies present a greater threat to any individuals present at the time than their planned counterparts, this is partly due to the stress that the robbery itself places on the would-be thief.
The majority of venues, especially those that take cash on the door in the form of ticket purchases, entrance fees and other charges, will feature a till somewhere in the vicinity of the entrance. Due to the presence of considerable amounts of money and proximity to the exit, these areas are most often chosen by robbers as targets.
Many robberies occur either just as the venue opens, or right before it closes. In both cases, there won’t be too many staff or patrons around and there will almost certainly be money in the till.
In the case of warehouses or other storage areas, thieves may attempt to gain access via doors or windows, with the aim being to locate the loot, take it and exit the building as quickly as possible.
In most cases, robbers are not looking to hurt anybody, their crimes are usually motivated by greed or desperation, not a desire to inflict violence on others. Nevertheless, most people capable of committing a robbery will also be capable of harming others should they deem it necessary to effect an escape.
In the following section, we’ll take a look at the best ways of preventing a robbery before it occurs.
As a security operative, you are expected to be vigilant at all times. You should always strive to stand up straight and pay attention to everything that’s going on around you. A security operative who is slouching against a wall, struggling to stay awake or idly chatting to customers and/or colleagues does not present a serious obstacle to a would-be robber and thus the very presence of such lax security can increase the likelihood of a robbery attempt.
If you have a good level of professional security experience, we also recommend that you trust your instincts. When something seems ‘off’ or ‘not quite right’ about a person or scenario, it very often is.
If you see a suspicious person (for example, someone lingering around the site with no obvious agenda, taking extensive photos or sitting in a car across the street for an extended period for no apparent reason), it is advisable to contact the police. Do not dial ‘999’ for something like this, instead phone your local police station. The number (if not already known by the venue’s management), should be easily available online.
It is also good to be wary of people asking questions specifically regarding your role at the venue. This may be presented as idle chit-chat, or even friendly banter, but it could very possibly be a potential robber (or their accomplice) gaining information that can aid them in their task. It is therefore wise to think beforehand of certain topics that you will always keep to yourself no matter who asks about them.
There’s no need to be rude to inquisitive patrons, however. You might wish to simply state “that’s classified” and offer a smile. Whether a potential security breach or not, it’s hard to imagine a rational person being offended by such a gentle response.
An all-round good piece of advice is for you to put yourself between the most vulnerable areas (e.g., where the money is) and the exit as often as possible. A security operative placed between the money and the exit presents a strong barrier (both psychological and physical) that can act as a very effective deterrent.
Keeping the exterior of the venue clean and tidy is also a powerful preventative measure. Potential robbers will see neglected, untidy areas (for example those strewn with graffiti and trash) as being viable hiding places or sources of entry. Areas that seem vulnerable for one reason or another should always be of particular interest to a security-conscious person. Light up dark corners, place cameras at every entrance and keep all service doors locked when not in use. Ensure also that anything that could potentially aid access to a higher level of the building (e.g., rubbish or recycling bins placed against the wall) gets moved to a different area.
As an adjunct to this advice, it also helps to prominently display the venue’s security equipment/measures, as well as signposting about their use close to the venue’s entrance. If the venue’s security uses CCTV or SmartTag, for example, make sure this fact is well advertised.
Additionally, money should not simply be stored in the till and left until the venue closes. To do so only invites trouble. Instead, recommend to management that any money be regularly (and discretely) transferred to a secure, reliable safe (or lockbox) elsewhere on the site. This ensures that, even if a successful robbery is carried out, the financial losses sustained by the company will be minimal.
Of course, money should never be handled in public view and nobody handling money at the venue entrance should be left unguarded.
It is also worth seeing if a local police CPO (Crime Prevention Officer) can be made available to assess the premises for possible security breaches/weak spots. The advice given by a CPO can help enormously, not only because it comes from an expert, but also because it will be specific to your local area, as well as the venue itself.
It also helps to keep up to date with local news. A robbery at a nearby shop or venue may not make national headlines, but it will certainly be covered by local news sources. Buy a local paper or join a local group on Facebook to be kept abreast of happenings in your area.
One final suggestion we have would be to see if management is open to running ‘robbery drills’ on the premises during a weekend or after hours. Like a fire drill, a robbery drill can help to prepare staff for a robbery, ensuring that everyone will act accordingly if a robbery were ever to take place. If you are planning to run robbery drills, police should be notified, and alarms temporarily switched off. No actual cash should be on the premises during a robbery drill.
If running robbery drills seems impractical or a little extreme, see if you can discuss robbery scenarios with staff, just to help increase people’s awareness of the proper procedures that need to be enacted during a robbery.
Remember that, more than anything else, robbers are looking for an easy way to make money. They aren’t looking for difficulty, hassle or a challenge. So, you and your venue can greatly decrease the likelihood of being targeted for a robbery by taking these and other preventative steps.
In short, make robbing your venue the most difficult, daunting task you possibly can, and potential thieves will likely turn their attention elsewhere or simply give up the endeavour entirely. Never forget that the act of stopping a robbery begins long before the robbery itself ever starts.
What to do in the Event of a Robbery
In cases of robbery, the job of a security operative is largely preventative, meaning that a large portion of your occupation involves acting as a deterrent and/or preventing dangerous incidents from occurring in the first place. Once a robbery is in progress, however, you must proceed with a great deal of caution.
During such volatile, high anxiety incidents, literally any action you take can cause harm to come to someone, be it yourself, a colleague, staff members, members of the public, police officers or even the robber(s) themselves.
Your central goal here, then, is neither to prevent the robbery, nor protect the money. It is in fact to keep everybody present safe from harm. This means cooperating with the robber as much as possible. The safety of the public, as well as your own personal safety and that of your colleagues, is vastly more important than money or material goods.
Of course, if it is possible to detain the thief without any serious risk to yourself or others, then you may decide to attempt it. However, you should never do so unless you are absolutely sure that you can apprehend the perpetrator with no serious harm to them, yourself, or anybody else in the vicinity.
In most cases, however, we advise you to remain calm and simply comply with the robber’s instructions/demands. Do not engage them in conversation any more than is necessary to accomplish this, do not antagonise them in any way and do not try to reason with or negotiate with them.
When dealing with a robber, you should avoid sudden movements, open gestures of hostility and anything that is likely to delay their departure and/or inflame the situation. The longer the robber remains on the premises, the more desperate they will likely become – and as their desperation increases, so too does the likelihood that they may hurt somebody.
The goal is to give the robber what they want with minimal difficulty and get them off the premises as swiftly as possible. All the while they are engaged in the act of robbery, they present a threat to patrons, staff members, colleagues, and yourself.
Public safety is the security operative’s primary role and, although you may be willing to put yourself at risk in order to prevent the robbery from occurring, it is completely inexcusable to put anybody else at risk for the same reason.
In crisis situations, people look towards security operatives. You must therefore present an example for others to follow.
In the case of a fire, for example, it isn’t your job to stay behind and put the fire out, it’s your job to help get patrons out of the building in a quick, safe, and orderly fashion. So is it with cases of robbery; you aren’t a police officer, nor are you a vigilante. Your job is to protect people.
Once the criminal has made their move, it is upon you to set an example by keeping a level head and seeing to it that the threat is removed from people in the simplest, safest and most expedient way – and that usually means following their instructions and letting them go.
However, we also advise you to pay close attention to the robber and take detailed mental notes of their appearance and mannerisms. Keep an eye out for any distinguishing features and clothing, listen closely to their accent and speech patterns. Once the police are called, your description (together with those of other witnesses) may help police to locate and identify the suspect.
Actions to be Taken Following a Robbery
As soon as the robber has vacated the premises, it is imperative that you ensure the safety of any others present. This means applying first aid where necessary and reassuring people that the incident is over and that they are safe.
The police must be called instantly. If people are injured, then an ambulance will be required as well.
This is a time when emotions are likely to be running high. Some patrons may react angrily towards you or accuse you of not doing enough to stop the incident. If this happens, calmly explain that you valued their safety over money and that any other security operative in your position would do the same.
Some patrons may be in a state of shock. If a person appears to be very shaken by the incident, you might quietly remind them that it is possible to self-refer for therapy on the NHS.
Understandably, many patrons may wish to leave immediately. They do have this right, but it’s worth encouraging them to stay and give a statement to police instead. Be sure to take names and contact details from anybody who does leave before the police arrive.
You must also endeavour to leave the area exactly as the robber did, as police can glean vital evidence as to the robber’s identity from the area in which the crime was committed. Do not allow patrons to interact with the area unless absolutely necessary. Bring anything the robber touched or interacted with to the attention of police as well.
Your fingerprints (and those of others) may be taken as ‘elimination fingerprints’. This does not mean that you are a suspect, just that police will be looking for the robber’s fingerprints and won’t wish to confuse them with those of an innocent party.
As a matter of course, the police will ask about CCTV, Body cam footage and other security measures. If they do not do so for whatever reason, volunteer anything that may be of use (especially security camera footage).
Police will issue you with a written confirmation that you have reported a crime, as well as contact details for the officer handling the case. They should then tell you approximately when (or if) you should expect to be updated regarding the progress of the investigation. You will likely also be contacted by a victim support organisation within 2 days of the police report being filed.
Once you have given a statement and returned home, we recommend writing down a few notes regarding the event, as the memories will likely fade (or even slightly alter) over time. Notes written while the incident is still fresh in your mind will be very useful should you have to testify in court or identify a suspect at any point.
The victim of the crime (in this case, the venue’s owners and/or proprietors – you would only be considered the victim if you were harmed in some way by the event or were a close relative of a person who died during the robbery) has the right to be kept updated as to the progress of the investigation.
Accordingly, police will inform all relevant parties within 5 days of any suspect’s arrest, charge, penalty notice or release on bail.
Finally, we recommend watching yourself for any symptoms of PTSD relating to the incident. Robbery, like assault, is a common cause of PTSD and, as we’ve discussed extensively on this site, security operatives are at a higher risk of developing this condition than most other professions.
Ultimately, it isn’t your job to prevent a robbery that’s already in progress, but it is your job to do whatever you can to keep people safe, including yourself. A robbery can be a traumatic and difficult experience on many levels and for multiple reasons, but if, when a robbery occurs, you follow the advice outlined here, you can at least be safe in the knowledge that you did everything right.