Protecting Pharmacies from Break-ins

Cmdr John Burke
Published Online: Wednesday, October 1, 2003

    Criminals who break into pharmacies are no different from law-abiding citizens when it comes to doing a job; they want to do it the easiest and fastest way possible, with the best return on their efforts. The physical location of the pharmacy may make it a more or less desirable target. Because most pharmacies cannot pick the location of the store, it is important to concentrate on how to make it less appealing to the burglars.

    The most important issue to address is an adequate alarm system for the pharmacy. An alarm that rings outside the pharmacy is fine, but it also needs to be a part of an automatic phone call that alerts local law enforcement. Also, this system needs to have a cellular phone backup for the alarm.

    The rationale is that burglars will cut the phone lines, and then sit back and see if law enforcement responds. If law enforcement does not respond, the criminals know that no backup cellular phone is likely in place, they have disabled the alarm, and entry can be made without much concern for discovery. Considerable portions of the successful pharmacy burglaries in my area of the country are occurring in this fashion.

    Illegal entries are made in a variety of locations, including the rear of the pharmacy, the rooftop, and the favorite of the amateurs??smash and grab.? This crude method often involves using a hard object to break in the front door or other glass entryways to the pharmacy. The thief enters and grabs whatever quick street sale items are available. If the pharmacy itself is separately and adequately secured, which I highly recommend, the chances are good that this burglary will not involve the removal of prescription drugs.

    The more sophisticated and professional burglars will make their entry in a much less obvious manner. Although rooftop and rear doors are popular entry spots, it is important to be aware of any stores or storage areas that adjoin or are above the pharmacy. For example, if the pharmacy is located in a strip mall, and the store next to it is vacant or is unprotected by an alarm at night, burglars will break into this unprotected store next to the pharmacy and then simply knock a hole in the common wall and gain access.

    Because this kind of entry along with rooftop entries will not activate strictly perimeter alarms, it is important that the pharmacy system include interior light beams. These beams will activate the alarm once the perpetrators have entered the building. The secured area of the pharmacy should also include these light beams in case the burglars find a way to drop directly into the pharmacy area from the ceiling.

    Proper lighting both inside and outside the store is also crucial. Advertisement signs on the windows should be used sparingly, as they block the view of law enforcement or people walking by who may spot a crime in progress. Pharmacy owners should do everything they can to make the rear of their pharmacy uninviting for wouldbe burglars. This means significant lighting, reinforced doors and locks, and, if possible, a clear view for patrolling police officers. Rear entryways with little or no lighting, and cluttered with boxes, pallets, or dumpsters, are an invitation to burglars.

    Remember that it is highly likely that the burglars will come into the store sometime during business hours to check the layout. If suspicious persons are noted, or seemingly inappropriate questions are asked about the store, pharmacy personnel should make an attempt to discreetly obtain the license plate number and notify their local law enforcement agency.

    Do not forget to work with the first line of defense, the local police agency. Many departments have a crime prevention officer who can provide pharmacies with a free, customized appraisal of their security strengths and weaknesses. Do not hesitate to use them.

    If the pharmacy ends up being the target of a burglary, after calling the local police, the pharmacy should make sure that the break-in is also reported to RxPATROL. RxPATROL can be accessed at www.rxpatrol.org (see August 2003 Pharmacy Times, p. 66) and provides an additional tool in solving the crime.


John Burke, director of the Warren County, Ohio, drug task force and retired commander of the Cincinnati Police Pharmaceutical Diversion Squad, is a 32-year veteran of law enforcement. For information, he can be reached by e-mail at burke@choice.net, by phone at 513-336-0070, or via the Web site www.rxdiversion.com



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