Captive at the Counter—Part 2: When Robbers Need a Quick Fix

Pharmacy Times, Volume 0, 0

Last month, we talked about theprospect of becoming a hostageinside your own pharmacy, ascenario that, when it occurs, is usuallyrelated to an armed robbery. Althoughit is difficult to obtain nationalpharmacy robbery statistics, reviewingthe robbery offenses that are reportedthrough RxPatrol ( day makes me think they haveincreased significantly over the pastfew years.

The unfortunate reality is that, ifsomeone wants to hold up a pharmacy,he or she is going to do so, and it isusually due to an addiction problem.Therefore, your best effort is to try toprevent it from happening at yourstore; and if it does happen, do everythingyou can to assist the police inarresting the perpetrator.

One of the first steps is to contactyour local police department and askfor a security review of your store.Larger departments will have a crimeprevention officer or someone whofunctions in that capacity and should beable to give you some advice on reducingyour chance of being a target. Thishas other benefits as you increase yourcommunication with the local police.Let them know that you are doing yourbest to prevent a robbery and want tocooperate to the fullest if a crime iscommitted in your pharmacy.

Of course, having an armed guard inthe pharmacy would be ideal, but that isnot reality in most pharmacies. Havingbright light in the parking lot, however,can deter would-be robbers, as wouldhaving an unobstructed view of theactual pharmacy area from the outsideto allow patrolling police cars to visuallycheck on you as they cruise throughyour parking lot. Simply removing anadvertisement or 2 from the windowcan assist in preventing nighttime burglaries.

Do not hide from the public that youhave surveillance cameras inside yourstore. Have one prominently displayedin back of the pharmacy counter, facingtoward the customer. This will deternot only robberies but other pharmacycrimes related to false prescriptions,"doctor shopping," and other scams. Ofcourse, the key to these cameras isthat you keep the video current. Toomany times we investigate pharmacycrimes that have sufficient cameracoverage, only to find that they werenot activated at the time, or the tapeshad not been changed.

Oftentimes after pharmacy robberies,employees will tell police abouta suspicious person they saw in thestore earlier, or even the night before.Although it is often difficult to call thepolice every time a strange or suspiciousperson is in the pharmacy, youmay try to discreetly obtain a licensenumber of the individual after heleaves. In virtually all cases, the perpetratorwill have been inside your pharmacyat least once and, in some cases,many times, before getting the "courage" to commit the crime.

Many stores today have installedheight tape on the inside of the pharmacyso that you can better estimatethe height of the offender, if your preventionefforts have failed. Trying tonotice the suspect's physical featuresand clothing is not an easy task with agun in your face, but it is likely veryimportant in apprehending the suspectlater. Look for obvious features (scars,glasses, limp, accent, hairstyle, etc) ofthe suspect during the holdup.

Of course, call the police as soon aspossible, giving basic information onthe description of the offender to thedispatcher, which direction he or shetook when leaving the store, and adescription of the vehicle, if you haveone. This provides responding policeofficers with some description in casethey encounter the subject on the wayto your store. Many times officers passthese criminals on their way to thelocation, but with no initial descriptionthe suspect gets away.

Last but not least, you may want toremind the officer taking the reportthat most pharmacy robberies arecommitted by addicts needing a quickfix. Once they leave your store, theylikely return to their residence, which is5 miles or less away, and overdose. Ifthey are lucky, someone calls for medicalassistance, and they are transportedto the local hospital. Checking lifesquad runs or hospital emergencyrooms a few hours after the robberycan reap benefits.

Preventing pharmacy robberies isthe number-1 goal. If that fails, however,it is crucial to get as good a descriptionas possible with adequate functioningcameras. Immediate notification of thepolice also is important. Rememberthat no prescription drugs or moneyare worth your health; cooperate withthe offender; and keep yourself andyour customers as safe as possible.

John Burke, commander ofthe Warren County, Ohio,drug task force and retiredcommander of the CincinnatiPolice PharmaceuticalDiversion Squad, isa 38-year veteran of lawenforcement. Cmdr Burkealso is the current presidentof the National Association of Drug DiversionInvestigators. For information, he can bereached by e-mail at, viathe Web site, or byphone at 513-336-0070.