Retail crime has been steadily on the rise as retailers have seen a dramatic increase in theft coupled with more violent crimes. It’s a dilemma that has affected businesses in unprecedented ways.
According to data from the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) National Retail Security Survey (NRSS), 28% of retailers say the increased levels of crime has forced them to close a store location, while 48% say that they have had to reduce operating hours, and another 30% reported needing to reduce or alter in-store product selection.
As businesses continue to combat mounting losses from criminal activity, they have sought to invest more in enhancing their asset protection and loss prevention initiatives. While most retailers look to beef up their interior security measures, businesses are increasingly taking an outside-in approach which is why parking lot security is becoming such an integral area for businesses to focus their deterrence efforts.
Security and law enforcement experts say that crime does not exist in a vacuum and that prevention begins long before a criminal strikes inside a business. After all, criminals need to pass through many zones before they can commit an actual crime.
These various zones are modeled after the Loss Prevention Research Council’s (LPRC) Five Zones of Influence. We all know that when it comes to crime deterrence, there are three main components. The first is to make the crime unattractive by making it more difficult to commit. The second is to increase the likelihood that they will be identified and get caught. And the third is by making the penalty harsh enough to dissuade them from acting.
The Zones of Influence takes the notion of crime deterrence one step further in the idea that although crimes can be committed in any zone, each zone is nested within each other and has a direct correlation and effect on the previous one. If we can disrupt criminal activity in any one of the zones, it can potentially make a difference in preventing crimes from occurring in the surrounding ones.
Each zone has distinct ways in which it can prevent and discourage criminal activity.
FIVE ZONES OF INFLUENCE
ZONE 1: SPECIFIC INTERIOR POINTS OR ASSETS
This is the exact location where a crime is attempted or occurs in a store.
In Zone 1, deterrence primarily focuses on surveillance methods to prevent criminals from having a feeling of anonymity. This can be achieved through store security cameras, the presence of employees, as well as other customers.
While many retailers have adopted zero-tolerance policies prohibiting employees from interfering with crimes in progress—to ensure employee safety and that situations aren’t further escalated—the presence of store personnel can still be a major deterrent. And with so many customers now armed with cell phones, the potential of being recorded or photographed can also be enough to make a criminal think twice.
Other potential security measures include keeping inventory locked up behind cabinets or counters. This can be coupled with a call system alerting an employee when assistance is needed. This can reduce the opportunity for theft and anonymity as it forces interactions with employees.
Yet, there is a danger in that these measures can negatively impact a customer’s shopping experience, making it a challenge to strike the right balance.
ZONE 2: SPECIFIC INTERIOR CATEGORY AREAS
Zone 2 applies to the immediate area surrounding the crime. This can be the aisle of a store or a hallway adjacent to where a crime is committed. Many of the same surveillance strategies in Zone 1 apply to Zone 2 when it comes to prevention.
However, other methods that can be utilized here are call buttons or keypad access to keep at risk areas restricted or protected. Alarms and increased communications can also be a helpful deterrent. Headsets, walkie talkies, or earpieces where employees or security teams can interact with each other can help mobilize a presence or alert authorities in a timely manner if a crime is committed.
ZONE 3: STORE ENTRYWAY AND OVERALL INTERIOR
This zone is focused on the entryway of the store as well as the entire premises of the store.
Security measures here focus on a more immediate presence of deterrence. Security guards, employees, metal detectors, entrance ways that require a buzz-in, as well as signs indicating that cameras are recording can send a message that the store is protected, and detection measures are in place.
Other auditory factors such as alarms or sensors affixed on merchandise can be an added layer to prevent theft.
With advances in artificial intelligence, some stores are armed with facial recognition software which can identify repeat offenders or criminals that might have been entered into a nationwide database.
ZONE 4: PARKING LOT ENTRY AND INTERIOR
Zone 4 refers to parking lots and all their entry and exit points.
Many experts believe this zone is one with huge opportunities to improve the overall security of other zones and arguably may make the most significant impact. This is the area where criminals begin to form their initial impressions and assessments on the viability of the target. They are looking for vulnerabilities and attempting to determine the level of friction they may encounter and the difficulty of getting away undetected. As a result, there are opportunities to thwart and shift the behaviors of potential criminals.
In Zone 4, it is extremely important to have a method of deterrence that is boldly visible and public to send a clear message that the area is being monitored. This can be achieved with frequent patrols in the parking lots as well as bright lighting and the presence of parking lot cameras on mobile security units. The ability for mobile security units to be entirely untethered and run on solar power allows them to be mobilized wherever they may be needed. Many are outfitted with large lights for added illumination eliminating shadows and the ability to record and identify suspicious activities. In addition, the ability to have loudspeakers can also serve as a warning or audio deterrent to intervene during an emergency.
Criminologists also cite the importance of maintaining a clean and well-maintained area. Psychologically, a parking lot that is free from debris, garbage, or vandalism can send a message that the retail space is well-kept and under constant care and attention. Simple details like making sure there are garbage cans available to keep the area clean as well as removing graffiti and fixing light fixtures in a timely manner can also be a deterring factor. The belief is that if the parking lot shows signs of lingering distress, it gives off the vibe that bad things have occurred there in the past and they have gone unchecked and unaddressed.
Issues like unnecessary and unwelcome loitering or solicitation of any kind can send similar messages and need to be controlled as well.
First impressions are more important than ever in parking lots as it sets an expectation for criminals on what they can expect along the rest of the way.
ZONE 5: CYBER AND SURROUNDING PHYSICAL COMMUNITIES
Zone 5 goes well beyond the parking lot into surrounding community and even into the realm of cyberspace. Neighborhoods or geographical areas that experience high crime rates translate into high levels of crime occurring in retail spaces.
Strategies in Zone 5 focus largely on building relationships with neighboring businesses, law enforcement, and local municipalities to build a comprehensive and interconnected strategy to fight crime as a community. Retailers can band together and share resources to increase security infrastructures or databases to track organized retail crime or repeat offenders.
Each zone of influence plays a vital role to the overall health and safety of businesses, their employees, and customers. Traditionally, when it comes to security and preventative measures, attention is primarily focused on Zones 1, 2, and 3. However, Zone 4 is increasingly being recognized as a massively critical factor in a retailer’s overall security plan. It serves as the initial access point and the first line of defense. As businesses start to invest more and make the outers zones a priority as well, it can help create a comprehensive and fortified security system that can prevent a criminal from even stepping foot into a store to begin with.