Examining safety and security in Missouri marijuana facilities
The medical marijuana industry in Missouri is operating in its third full year. Until recently the criminal activity has been minimal. It began with some burglaries of facilities in the process of being built and there have been some instances of petty theft (shoplifting) using simple sleight-of-hand techniques that budtenders should be aware of. More recently, burglaries of dispensaries in the St. Louis area have become a hot topic, though burglaries are not occurring only on that side of the state. Burglary is a common crime, especially when the target locations contain high-value assets and are cash-based businesses like medical marijuana dispensaries.
Crime commonly presents itself in waves. The Missouri medical marijuana community is clearly experiencing a wave of burglaries. Unfortunately, what frequently follows are robberies. An important piece of information to be aware of is the difference between a burglary and a robbery. Though these two crimes are similar, they have very distinct differences, yet it is common for people to use the term “robbery” when the crime committed was actually a burglary.
Robbery is the forcible stealing of property and involves the use or threat of use of a deadly weapon or results in physical injury to a person. Burglary is defined as knowingly entering unlawfully or knowingly remaining unlawfully in a building or inhabitable structure for the purpose of committing a crime therein. Forcible entry into a building and forcibly stealing property are two different things. Therefore, the forcible entry into unoccupied dispensaries for the purpose of stealing product/cash that we have been seeing so prevalently in the Saint Louis area, fall under the category of burglary.
Now that you are aware of the most common types of crime that could potentially affect your medical marijuana business, we would like to discuss some prevention methods. Not everything will be relevant to every situation or facility, but we will offer some food for thought.
We are all required to have surveillance cameras per DHSS rules and regulations. However, if your cameras are not being monitored in real-time, they become more of an investigative tool than a crime prevention tool, though they will deter some crime. Ensure that you have adequate lighting (especially after closing) to be able to see what is going on in your surveillance footage and that the cameras have a good view of all entry/access points (doors and windows). Make sure that you do not keep valuable merchandise in a dark corner or out of view of cameras.
To prevent petty theft/shoplifting, keep product out of reach of patients/customers, and do not hand them anything until after they have purchased it. Shoplifters often use sleight-of-hand and distraction techniques and are so quick about it that the theft is not even noticed until after they are gone or sometimes not until a random video audit or a product inventory takes place.
Keep your vault doors closed and locked at all times, including during business hours. Only management should have access to the vault, and they should only access it when it is necessary to enter. Leaving it unlocked or open because it is easier also makes theft of opportunity easier to occur.
Keep items of value in places where they cannot be seen through a window from outside the business, especially after hours.
Lock up all product and cash in the vault at closing each night. Nothing should be left on the sales floor or where anyone could easily access it should they somehow gain entry into your business.
Interior and Exterior Facility Security Measures
A common MO (Modus Operandi) for burglaries is “forced entry” or “smash and grab”. The plan usually involves little more than to get in and get out quickly, and it generally causes a significant amount of property damage. Sometimes, a brick/stone/rock (often one that is found in the landscaping of the business itself) is used to break the glass to gain entry. Often, a prying tool is used to pry the business doors open (this occurs frequently at back doors). Other times, the criminals will use a vehicle, commonly a stolen vehicle, to drive through the storefront. These criminals know that even if the business has an alarm system, there is a time delay due to the alarm company having to call the police and the police being dispatched and having to drive there, so they have time to grab as much as they quickly can and get out. Still, there are measures you can take, both inexpensive and costly, that will make your business a harder target.
Lighting – make sure your business has adequate lighting both inside and out, even during the hours that it is not open. This allows your surveillance cameras to capture better views of anything that may occur on your property and also prevents would-be criminals from using the darkness to hide. If your area is well-lit then neighboring businesses, residences, or passersby can see if anything out of the ordinary is taking place.
Early warning systems such as motion lights, motion sensors, and audible alarms are helpful and can alert you when someone is on your property or inside your business when they shouldn’t be.
Doors that open out vs in reduce the chances of doors being kicked/rammed in. Latch guards over door hardware and/or enforcing doors with a bar on the inside helps prevent the doors from being forced/pried open and are simple and inexpensive options. Pull-down security gates that pull down over the doors and windows are a more expensive but also more effective option. Concrete pillars or even large, heavy planters (too heavy for a person to lift and throw through a door/window) strategically placed outside the storefront can prevent cars from being driven into the building.
“Less is best” when it comes to glass and storefronts, but if you are not building your facility from the ground up, you may not have that option. Glass can be reinforced with security film and/or bars/gates to help prevent the glass being broken to gain entry into your facility. We realize looks are important, but the security of your business should be your priority.
A recent study conducted by the National Retailers Association found that according to shoplifters, security guards were the most effective theft deterrent. Typically, the security guard is the first person customers/patients see when entering a facility. So, what do you look for when hiring a security guard?
Is your security guard friendly and do they display good customer service skills? Can they relate to your customers/patients? What is their background and experience level? Do they have a good command presence that says, “this is not the business criminals want to target”? Do they keep the “bad guys” away and the customers/patients coming back for more? A guard with the above skills and characteristics is worth the extra cost. Having an untrained, unskilled person with a gun can be more of a liability than no guard at all. Choose wisely. Even the best-trained security guard cannot prevent everything but taking no action/having no plan can be viewed as negligent. Consulting your legal advisor is highly recommended.
What about after hours? Although good security guards are important, if they are not deployed after operating hours or overnight, they will not prevent burglaries from taking place. The cost of security is high and is typically one of the first things to be significantly reduced or removed from a budget. If you are not able to staff a security guard during the hours that your business is closed, you may consider hiring a security company to monitor your cameras overnight as an option.
Though it is a hard pill to swallow, studies show that anywhere from 30-45% of retail theft is due to employee theft. Whether this is from the employee committing the theft, employee fraud, or an employee assisting others in stealing from the company (either by unauthorized discounts or by providing them with inside information to help them commit a theft/burglary/robbery), this is a significant problem that businesses cannot afford to ignore. Below are some ways to help combat internal/employee theft.
Improve the quality of your employees
- Conduct a thorough pre-employment background check on all new hires that includes drug tests, criminal records checks, reference checks, credit checks and confirm their dates of employment. Statistics show that illegal drug use is linked to committing crimes, people who have committed crimes such as theft/burglary/robbery before are likely to do it again, and those in significant debt are more likely to steal. If someone has significant gaps in their dates of employment, it could be due to prison time they were serving. Poor credit, job gaps, or a criminal do not automatically make an individual a liability to your company, but it is something you need to be aware of and take into consideration when deciding who to employ.
- Pay your employees better. People who make more money are less likely to steal.
Policies & Procedures
- Make sure you have formal policies in place that identify unacceptable behavior and talk about what will happen if someone is caught stealing.
- Follow your own policies and procedures and hold people accountable to them. When the rules become lax, so do the behaviors.
- Train employees and especially management in the prevention and handling of both internal and external theft. Fortunately, this is already a requirement by DHSS.
- Teach your employees to look for theft indicators.
- Watch for suspicious vehicles in the parking lot and for customers/support persons who look like they may be casing the business. Thieves often don’t commit a crime the first time they are in your business. They want to scope it out first to assess their risk of getting caught vs their likelihood of getting what they want.
Provide a means for employees to report observed illegal or unethical behavior. Many places have implemented ways to submit anonymous tips for this. Additionally, consider creating a rewards system for employees who help management find/stop thieves.
Create a happy work culture. Employees who respect their boss won’t want to violate their trust. This also helps eliminate the revenge factor as a reason for theft to occur.
Restrict access not only to certain areas but also to information. This will reinforce the system of checks and balances by ensuring responsibility in particular employees and will reduce the number of suspects if something does go missing. Employees should not be given keys or safe combinations – only management should have this access. Not all employees need to know when deliveries are taking place – only those designated to receive the deliveries. If a lock, vault, motion or alarm sensor, etc. is malfunctioning, only certain required people should be privy to this information, and it needs to be remediated as quickly as possible.
Monitor your technology. Your surveillance cameras can be a great asset if you monitor them and review footage regularly. Pay attention to people who appear to be avoiding cameras or keeping their hands out of plain view.
Conduct regular audits and inventories. This will help you discover theft that you may not have been previously aware of.
Business owners must weigh some important factors. What is more important – the safety of their employees and their assets or their bottom dollar? Both are obviously important for a business to be successful in a competitive industry. If employees do not feel safe, will they stay? Will they perform well? Will customers come to your facility if they do not feel safe?
Safety and security should be a high priority in the medical marijuana industry. With adult-use rules pending, increased security should be in the forefront of every facility owner’s mind. Crime rates WILL increase. More facilities WILL be targeted.
Some questions facility owners should be asking themselves are:
- “Are we prepared for increased crime?”
- “Have we done everything we can to keep our employees, customers, and products/assets safe?”
- “Is our current safety and security program adequate?”
If you are unsure of the answers to any of these questions, contact your security director and ask them to conduct a security audit of your facility. If you do not have a security director or for some reason, they are not available, this is a service that KC Cann Transport and many other security companies can provide to you for a small fee. Just make sure that you use a reputable person or company that you can trust.
Only time will tell who is taking these incidents seriously. Don’t roll the dice. The term “crime prevention” was established for good reason. Make sure when criminals are scouting locations they go elsewhere because it’s easier than trying to circumvent your security measures. Be smart and take safety and security seriously. Sometimes, there is no second chance to get it right.