Pharmacy Times

Rising Pharmacy Violence

Author: Cmdr John Burke

Crimes of violence in pharmacies can be prevented or minimized by taking steps to review security, stay vigilant, and work with the local crime prevention officer.


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Virtually everyone who reads Pharmacy Times is aware of the gruesome and horrific pharmacy robbery in New York during which a hydrocodone addict shot and killed 4 innocent people, 2 of them pharmacy personnel. He was later arrested along with his wife, and awaits trial as this issue is being written.

In another state, a pharmacy employee had her face smashed repeatedly against the shelves during a robbery in her store, and in California, a law enforcement officer was shot after finding an intruder breaking into the back door of a local pharmacy. The suspect initially ran from the officer, then turned and grabbed the officer’s service weapon, and shot him in the shoulder.

These are only a few of the violent incidents that have occurred in our country in pharmacies in recent months. Is there an escalation of violent events at pharmacies, or have the past few months just been a horrible time period in America? Regardless, what can our nation’s pharmacy employees do to prevent these crimes, if anything?

After more than 43 years in law enforcement, I am convinced that some crimes of violence are virtually unpreventable no matter what precautions are taken. However, I also feel this is the very small minority of incidents—and that most can be prevented or at least minimized.

Robberies are by far the biggest concern, and by the very nature of the products (controlled substances) that are in your establishment, you become a potential target. In the vast majority of robberies, the suspect has been in your store at least once, perhaps more. Of course, they are sizing up the layout of the store, security if any, including physical security and/or camera equipment, and the sense of awareness by the employees, if any.

Security cameras are almost a must, with some signage reminding everyone who comes in the store that they are on surveillance equipment. These cameras and surveillance systems can be a huge plus in preventing pharmacy robberies, but hiding their presence tends to defeat the goal of prevention.

Most pharmacy areas are in the rear of the store, creating a natural barrier between a passing police car and a view of your workspace behind the pharmacy counter. This is unlikely to be changed, but attempting to keep the front windows as uncluttered as possible can also be a deterrent in some situations.

Security Review
As I have mentioned before, don’t overlook inviting your local crime prevention officer into the store to do a security review. The officer can oftentimes offer some good prevention ideas as well as common sense responses to a robbery if all else has failed.

One idea is to make sure that no one ever closes or opens the store alone if at all possible. When the store is being opened or closed, it is essential that you be aware of your surroundings. If you detect anything suspicious when you are going to open the store, use your cell phone to call police, and if necessary, leave the parking lot and observe from a safe distance until law enforcement arrives.

Perhaps one of the most vulnerable times is when the store is being closed. If you have surveillance cameras on the parking lot, make sure you view them before leaving. Once at the front door, scan the lot again. If you are not comfortable or notice anything suspicious, call the police and do not leave the safety of the store. If possible, those closing the store should take steps to park their personal cars close to the front door earlier in the evening.

Don’t be a Hero
If prevention methods fail and you become part of a robbery, the main thing is that you give the subject whatever drugs he or she wants. This is not the time to be a hero or refuse to give the criminal what he or she is there for—controlled substances. Do what you can to notice anything unusual about the suspect that might help you identify him or her later if caught, and of course, dial 911 as soon as it is safe to do so.

In talking to the 911 operator, don’t hang up after you report that you have been robbed and confirm your location. The operator will likely want as much of a description as you can give, as well as the direction and mode of escape, if you know. These facts are crucial as the broadcast goes out to responding police units who will be looking for a person matching the description you’ve given. Many times officers have passed perpetrators while approaching the crime scene because they did not have a timely description from the victims.

Most of all, use your good sense to try to avoid being a victim, and the same good sense if you become a victim.


Cmdr Burke is a 40-year veteran of law enforcement and the current president of the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators. He can be reached by e-mail at burke@choice.net, via the Web site www.rxdiversion.com, or by phone at 513-336-0070.