YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

SMALL BUSINESS / News, Trends and Help for Growing
| An Ounce of Prevention

Simple Steps Can Protect Your Business From Crime


About half of small-business robberies could be avoided if owners took simple security measures, according to detectives who work the most robbery-plagued part of Los Angeles.

Dets. Dave Reeser and Christine Holroyd handle commercial robberies for the Wilshire Division of the Los Angeles Police Department. The division's region had 2,012 holdups last year, roughly 200 of them involving small businesses.

One of the best crime-prevention measures, the detectives say, is to increase the visibility of people approaching the business. The more noticeable would-be criminals are, the less likely they are to strike.

Something as simple as adequate outdoor lighting means there are fewer places where someone could hide while casing the business, they say. It also gives potential victims more time to spot such a person.

"The bad guys don't like the light," Reeser said.

After his Miracle Mile 7-Eleven was robbed three times in five months early last year, Harry Gill decided to upgrade the lighting inside and outside his three convenience stores. He also removed all posters and signs from the front windows to increase his clerks' field of vision.

Gill also installed surveillance cameras with video monitors in plain view. Now all visitors can see themselves walking into the stores. The stores haven't been robbed since April.

"Everything is safer," Gill said. "Safety is the most important thing--for my customers and my employees."

Reeser and Holroyd say a light near a trash bin in a Larchmont Village alley could have prevented a late-night holdup in November in which a coffeehouse manager was attacked while taking out the garbage. The robber knocked the manager to the ground and kicked him repeatedly in the head before escaping with $1,100 from the cash register. The assailant remains at large, and the manager remains hospitalized with head injuries.

The detectives say criminals often case a store before an attack, watching the employees' activities.

"You have to keep changing your routine," Reeser said. "You can't do anything the same way twice."

Especially vulnerable are shopkeepers who follow the same accounting and deposit procedures for their cash receipts. Robbers often scope out a business for days and attack when the owner leaves to make a deposit.

Under one scenario, a victim may be minutes into his or her drive to the bank and, after realizing the car has a flat tire, pulls to the side of the road. Then, someone posing as a good Samaritan ends up robbing them. The thief knew the victim's destination and punctured the tire beforehand.

"If that happens to you," Reeser said, "just drive to a gas station. Don't pull over."

Gill, the 7-Eleven owner, encourages fellow shopkeepers to be aware of their surroundings.

"I tell my guys to keep their eyes open all the time," he said. He has instructed employees to scan parking lots and sidewalks frequently, especially at night. If they spot someone suspicious, they're to call a clerk at another of Gill's stores. He reasons that a potential criminal will think the clerk is on the phone with the police and leave.

Julie Lee says a security guard can provide similar safety benefits. Two months ago, her family opened a pasta house in a Koreatown neighborhood that police say is one of the city's most crime-plagued. The family has hired two security guards to watch over the restaurant. One works during the day and the other stays on the premises from midnight to morning.

"It's worked out pretty well," Lee said. "So far we haven't had any problems."

Not far from Lee's restaurant, Mihwa Chu runs a framing shop. Her main security feature is a buzzer at her service counter that unlocks the front door. "Many people around here have them," she said. "If you don't [trust] the person at the door, you don't have to let them in." Her shop has been open almost a year, and so far she hasn't had any trouble.

For Reeser and Holroyd, advice like Chu's is encouraging.

"It's good to hear people are getting involved," Reeser said. "It's a smart idea. I just wish we could mandate it."

Los Angeles Times Articles