The Philippines’ first and only industry magazine that deals with safety and security matters pervading the environment today.

Security for Small Businesses

Some sectors believe that Dirty Harry-style crackdowns on criminals may cause the inadvertent migration of undesirable elements to other areas of the metropolis. Despite the efforts of law enforcement, street criminals have continued to operate with boldness and there have been some disturbing incidents near schools and universities. Certain commercial establishments have been hit by armed criminals, who not only took the contents of the cash registers, but also the cell phones and laptop computers of customers. Increased vigilance on the part of the authorities and the community as a whole must be adopted in order to preserve peace and order.

The other day, I had an interesting discussion with a friend who owned an internet cafe. She was concerned about what steps should be taken to prevent any theft or petty crimes at her establishment. Primarily, she was concerned about her customers because more than once, strangers had walked in and did not do any business, but roamed around, as if looking for someone. She feared that a cell phone snatching incident might take place or something of that nature. Of course, she was also worried about her cash sales and possible theft of computer equipment.

We have heard or read about many stories involving robbery in small business establishments. Many honest and hard working people have been victimized by street criminals. The difficult thing about theft of this nature is the volume of business required to recover losses. For example, on the total sales of one item for the day (cell phone loads), my friend sold P662.00 worth of product. From this, her profits only amounted to P86.oo due to a very slim margin she needed to stay competitive. If those sales were stolen, imagine how much more product would have to be sold just to make up for the losses due to theft?

What can we do to protect small businesses? First of all, we must remember that robbery is a crime that carries with it a high risk of violence. We do not know when and where the criminals intend to strike;  that is why they will usually “get the drop on us.” Weapons are typically present, and resistance usually causes high-strung and nervous criminals to resort to the use of force or violence. We must do all that we can to prevent crime from materializing in the first place.

Security is not just up to one business owner, but should be the concern of the community as a whole. More can be accomplished if we work together rather than in small isolated efforts. We must adopt the right attitudes and not be complacent or careless about peace and order. In the design and layout of commercial or business establishments, maximized visibility and proper lighting are important factors in crime prevention. Studies show that criminals prefer cluttered establishments with obstructions that can block the view of outsiders, witnesses or authorities to any crime in progress. High visibility is a strong deterrent, as is the use of security cameras that can document any information that might lead to the arrest of a criminal.

Just as criminals seek to operate in secrecy and quiet, they also wish to remain anonymous. An establishment with staff that warmly greets its customers is not just creating goodwill, but when you look someone straight in the eye and greet them—you can also identify them in the future if they commit a crime.

We have a saying, “If you don’t have a plan, you plan to fail”. Rest assured criminals have a plan, and they have probably studied your establishment and know any weak spots and the best probable time to execute a robbery attempt. Do you and your staff know what to do in case of a robbery? It is important that you know your weaknesses, develop a security plan, properly train your staff and be vigilant. You should also develop a system of discreet communications that will silently signal your staff of a pending emergency or risk, so that employees can be alerted, put the security plan into action and the authorities can be contacted.

Keep cash-on-hand at a minimum, especially at night when most crimes take place. It is inevitable that large bills may accumulate; set these aside as soon as possible and put them in a drop safe. Don’t let your cash accumulate and make deposits throughout the day, but do not do this in a regular or predictable manner. Do not tally your balance where outsiders might see this activity. Be discreet and do this in a secure area. Statistics show that robbery will usually take place shortly after you open, or when you are about to close your establishment. Make sure you have adequate manpower on hand at these times. Do not be predictable.

Give the perception that you are a hard target and are not worth the risk of a robbery attempt. Place burglar alarm stickers or signage of your participation in anti-crime programs in prominent locations inside and outside your establishment. Use security cameras, door chimes and vaults. If you have an electronic detector that sets off a chime or doorbell when someone enters your door, the tendency is for everyone present to look at who just entered; criminals do not like witnesses who can identify them. Conduct proper background checks on employees as an insurance against inside jobs. It is also good to have a silent alarm button that can be activated in secrecy. It should be connected to a neighboring establishment with the understanding that there is a crime in progress, and that they are to contact the police immediately. You in turn should be willing to do the same for your neighbor in case he is in trouble.

When you are confronted by a robber, it is usually too late. His plan is already in action and his accomplices are already deployed inside your establishment. It is best to comply with their demands. This is not a guarantee that no harm will come, but the quicker the criminals exit, the less the danger to you, your customers and employees.

Remain calm and do not do anything unexpected that might startle the criminals. Have an eye for details; this will be important later when you report the robbery. Contact the authorities as soon as possible after the incident. When you report the crime, remember the 5 Ws + H (who, what, where, when, why and how). Be expedient but calm so that you do not forget any details that might be important to your case. You should try your best to remember the number of suspects, their backgrounds and gender, appearance, ethnicity, nicknames, age, height, clothing, behavior, or any peculiarities. For vehicles, remember plate numbers, brand, model, year, distinguishing marks, and direction taken during their get-away.

Do not contaminate the crime scene and tell your employees to help keep it secure. Do not touch or move any objects that may have the fingerprints of the suspects. Inventory your losses but do not advise anyone about this, divulge the information only to the investigator assigned to your case. If you let this information out, and word gets around that it is profitable to rob your establishment, you may have more visits from criminals.

Community participation in peace and order is very important. Concerned citizens can function as eyes and ears, which through the use of modern cell phones can send vital information to the authorities in an expedient manner. Blue guards should also be organized into a unified community security program—imagine how many security guards criminals will pass on their way out of your neighborhood? Escape routes are fixed and predictable. Roadblocks or checkpoints could be set up to intercept escaping suspects. If the authorities know who they are looking for, they can respond properly and efficiently. This is why accurate and expedient information attainable through modern technology used in tandem with citizen volunteers is vital.

This will make efficient and strategic use of limited police and community resources. Concerned citizens working together with the authorities form the best community safeguards. Such groups in turn can work with neighboring communities and make life very difficult for criminals in general. If however, neighborhoods are complacent and take no action, once the criminals are out the door, they are gone. •