Hardening your Missouri medical cannabis facility, Best practices to prevent break-ins, burglaries and product loss
Over the past several weeks, the St. Louis area has experienced several incidents of burglary at dispensaries. Most recently these burglaries have resulted in a loss of product/cash and/or damage to the facilities.
In many of the burglaries we have seen upwards of a dozen young men, often armed with guns, force their way into the dispensaries during the overnight hours. The most brazen incidents occurred when vehicles were rammed into the dispensaries. Not only have these burglaries caused a loss of product and property damage, but they have also halted facility operations while investigations were conducted and repairs were made.
Before we get into basic tips on how to deter these crimes and reduce the likelihood of loss, let’s look at the crime of burglary itself.
In the State of Missouri the crime of burglary is defined as follows:
“A person commits the crime of burglary in the 2nd degree when he or she knowingly enters unlawfully or remains unlawfully in a building or inhabitable structure for the purpose to commit a crime therein.” (RSMo 569.170)
The higher offense of burglary, burglary in the 1st degree, is when the same crime as above is committed but at least one of these additional elements exist:
- The suspect is armed with a weapon
- Another person(s) not involved in the burglary is present
- Physical injury is threatened or caused to the uninvolved person(s).
It is important to define a burglary because most people who find their business or home broken into often exclaim, “I’ve been robbed!” In the above situation you have actually been the victim or a burglary. Other states may call it “breaking and entering.”
There is an important distinction to understand between the two crimes.
In the State of Missouri a robbery is defined as follows:
A person commits the offense of robbery in the second degree if he or she FORCIBLY steals property and in the course thereof causes physical injury to another person.” (RSMo 570.025)
Like a burglary, robbery also has a higher offense known as robbery in the 1st degree when the same crime as above is committed but at least one of these additional elements exist:
- Serious physical injury is caused
- The suspect is armed with a deadly weapon
- The suspect threatens the immediate use of a dangerous instrument.
- The suspect displays or threatens the use of what appears to be a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument.
A simple way to remember the basic difference between the two separate crimes is this:
- If you come into work in the morning and the front door is smashed open and product is missing, then you have been the victim of a burglary.
- If you are at work and a bad guy comes in threatening a weapon and says, “Give me the money or I’ll shoot you” then you have been the victim of a robbery.
Now that we have some background on the elements of these crimes, let’s discuss some ways to deter them and lessen your chance of suffering a significant loss.
#1 Follow all of the security requirements of your facility as outlined in 19 CSR 30-95.040(4)(H) all of the time.
Missouri has learned from the shortcomings of other states that security requirements need to be mandated by law and followed at all times. As you have experienced during the application process, commencement process, and now annual inspections, security is a main focus of compliance. Even if your facility chooses to only follow the bare minimum that is required by law, if you do it right all the time every time, you are lessening the likelihood and impact of victimization.
Per 19 CSR 30-95.040 (4)(H)(7), Each facility shall employ a Security Manager whose responsibility is on the security of the facility. If you do not have the ability to hire a full-time in-house Security Manager there are reputable firms in Missouri that provide those services and training to your team so you can focus on the other aspects of your business.
#2 Look at cost effective ways to harden your facility.
The minimum-security requirements in Missouri are a great start but they are a “floor” and not a “ceiling.” My firm has successfully worked with dozens of facilities across Missouri that all have different operations, designs, budgets, and company cultures. At each facility we have found solutions to strengthen our plans, policies, and physical security elements in a cost-effective manner.
Considering recent events, special attention should be paid to exterior security elements including:
- Metal/concrete bollards around dispensary perimeter, or at a minimum in front of all glass storefronts
- When the installation of bollards Is not feasible, obstacles such as large concrete planters or jersey barriers may suffice.
- In regard to glass doors and storefronts, security film products are available to make glass more difficult or impossible to shatter.
Work with your Security Manager or Security Management Firm to explore options that can deter criminal activity and minimize risk.
#3 Establish strong inventory and cash on hand policies.
Keeping an excess of cash and products on hand could be easier, but is it worth it?
Catastrophes like fires, tornadoes, robberies, burglaries, and internal theft happen in Missouri every day in some form or another. All of these are risks to your assets. Limiting the amount of assets on hand at any one time while balancing the needs of the operation can be tricky.
However, implementing options such as cashless ATMs, wire transfers, and more frequent deliveries can limit how significant a loss is should one occur.
#4 Ensure all cash and live product is secured overnight in a vault when possible or, at a minimum, locked securely in a strong display case or drawer.
Criminals almost always take the path of least resistance and they want to get in and out as quick as possible. Leaving cash and product unsecured is making their lives easier and raising your potential for loss.
Speaking of vaults, do you really have a “vault?” Well of course you have a “vault,” you passed commencement inspection and DHSS saw you had a vault or you would not have received approval to operate.
A “vault” is not clearly defined in the regulations. We have designed vaults with concrete walls and 12-inch-thick doors like a bank as well as low-profile vaults that appear to be normal doors but are instead solid metal surrounded with reinforced drywall. Working with your Security Manager or Security Management Firm you can find a workable solution that balances protection and cost effectiveness. Bottom line, your vault and your restroom should have significantly different levels of construction and protection.
#5 Ensure you have clear opening and closing procedures your staff is well trained on and adhere to every day.
In the police world we had a training motto, “complacency kills.” It might be the end of a long stressful day and the staff is just trying to get out of work to get home to the family. We have all been there before.
While in a rush or just going through the motions of everyday work it can be easy to forget to secure some products/cash, lock a vault, or even forget to set an alarm before you leave.
Sometimes you might get all the way home and realize you forgot and say, “It will be fine.” Maybe it will be or maybe that is the night you have an intrusion. We have to follow our procedures every time to limit our risk. I have been informed by industry insurance representatives that losses due to negligence may not be covered.
#6 Use your Police!
Medical Marijuana is a newly legalized market. Let’s be honest, some folks might have had “grey” market experience before and their job was to be less than involved with the police during that time. The law has changed and now it is a time to see the police as a resource to your operation.
My firm makes sure that each one of our facilities has a working relationship with our local law enforcement. We have invited the police to come in and see the operations for themselves so we can familiarize them with what we do and don’t do. We also use the opportunity to showcase our security measures. I have had veteran police chiefs come in for a tour that for decades arrested people for Marijuana. Now, they come in and are overly impressed at how professional and well thought out are facilities are.
Those simple interactions have fostered great working relationships and we have been able to share information with each other and open up lines of communication. Just last week, I reached out to a local police chief to discuss the recent burglaries. He was very appreciative and even assigned one of his officers that patrols our area to make sure she and her partners provide extra patrols during the midnight hours.
We have found that most police officers are actually curious about the industry and we have a chance to educate them and build those important relationships.Communication and coordination with local law enforcement is an asset. The police are a resource. Use them!
#7 Since these burglaries have been occurring during the overnight hours, be more aware while you are opening the facility in the morning.
Have your Security Manager or Security Management Firm train your staff to observe things like damage or unsecured doors before they walk in the facility. If something does not look right, just back away and call the police. The officers are trained and armed. If there is a bad guy still inside it is better that the police find them instead of you or your staff.
#8 If you find your facility has been broken into after you have walked in, back out, and call the police. Do not touch anything.
Again, let the police do their job. If you do make it inside before you realize something is wrong, do not touch anything, back out, and call 911.
It is not uncommon for people who have been burglarized to start to cleaning things up while they wait for the police to arrive. Instead, leave everything as you found it and get out. Something trivial like a piece of trash on the floor could be an important clue in getting the bad guy off the street. Fingerprint and DNA technology is constantly improving. Leave everything as it is so you don’t contaminate the crime scene.
Remembering these tips can help safeguard your facilities. Being security focused is important now and will be even more important for the possible adult use market where we will see increased business traffic and also increased risk with more assets to protect.
We must be aware that in every single Marijuana market there have been burglaries and robberies. They will occur here in Missouri as well just as they did in long established traditional businesses before us.
Taking the steps to be prepared will limit losses and can even help save lives.
Finally, do not feel like you have to go at this alone. There are proven experts in the security field that you can hire in house or contract with that will help you tackle these issues so you can focus on the other aspects of running your business.
Joe Patterson is a member of the Missouri Cannabis Trade Association’s Transportation, Security, and Technology Advisory Board. Patterson is a former St. Louis County Police Detective who was assigned to the FBI/DEA Violent Crime Task Force. Patterson is the Principal of Patterson and Associates, a security management firm that services the industry by providing facility design, SOP development, security planning, and security training to all facility types. For more information visit www.PattersonAndAssociates.org.