MANCHESTER, NH – A gathering of more than a dozen business owners, convenience store employees and community members came out Thursday night for a presentation by Manchester Police on safety and best practices when it comes to robbery prevention.
The session, led by Manchester Police Officer Nate Linstad, was scheduled following a rash of robberies and attempted robberies at small neighborhood stores – 11 were reported in January, according to Police Chief Carlo Capano.
Compared with the past three years, that number is not far off from “the norm.” In January of 2016 17 robberies were reported; in 2017, there were 16. The anomaly was 2018, when only 7 robberies were reported, Capano said.
And overall, the 2018 crime statistics – which will officially be released as soon as they are reported to the FBI – are trending down.
“It’s an uptick [for January] because it’s a crunch of time those started happening in, but historically speaking, compared to the last three years number-wise, we’re not far off from where we’ve been,” Capano said.
Of the 7 robberies and 4 attempted robberies last month, Capano said 4 have been solved due to arrests. Detectives continue to work on leads in the other cases.
Key to making arrests is the ability for police to get solid and timely information at the scene.
Thursday night’s session, held at police headquarters, included helpful handouts, statistics and suggestions to create more robber-resistant environments – especially at neighborhood convenience stores which are often easy targets for a number of reasons.
Lindstad ticked off some useful tips, like the importance of making sure windows are not obscured by too many signs, which makes it difficult for police to see inside as they are on patrol and gives a would-be robber the advantage.
Other considerations included making sure there is adequate lighting outside businesses at night and upgrading video surveillance equipment. Capano said that for about $200 store owners can purchase good-quality equipment which can make all the difference when police seek descriptive photos to distribute to the public for help.
Most important for store owners is educating themselves and their staff on how to avoid “lizard brain,” a primal response instinct that shuts down the frontal lobe of the brain in times of stress.
“You need to understand what happens to the human body under stress,” Linstad said. “When people tell me stories about how they responded during stressful situations, it all comes down to how well they were trained.”
In a tale of two victims, Linstad illustrated how two clerks in similar circumstances handled confrontations with robbers.
Clerk A was so scared she not only gave the robber all the cash from the drawer, but then asked if he wanted the money from “the other” drawer. She also offered the robber candy and cigarettes until he seemed satisfied with his haul and couldn’t carry anything more.
She said afterward, the worst part of the experience wasn’t getting robbed, but that her husband, son, boss and co-workers criticized her for how she reacted.
“She told me, if I’d had the time to think about it, I would have done things differently. What she’s basically saying is under that immediate stress, she did not have the ability to think. She didn’t have the ability to have a cognitive, mathematical-equation kind of thought process to be able to say if this happens, I should do that,” Linstad said.
Clerk B worked at a bank and said the robber walked up to her window and handed her a note.
“She said I read the note, I reached down and grabbed the money and put it in the bag with the dye-pack, and handed it to him. I took a step back and showed him my hands. Then, as soon as he stepped out of the bank I pushed the silent alarm. Then I reached over and filled out my robbery description form, put the pen down and waited for police to arrive. What is the difference between person A and person B?” Linstad asked the group.
“Training,” said Steve Ray, who works at Second Street Mobile.
Exactly the point Linstad was about to drive home for the group.
“If either you or your workers are not properly trained, we can’t expect them to do the right thing,” Linstad said. “When they experience the onset of stress – a knife or a gun in their face, or a note handed to them – we can’t expect them to miraculously know what to do. It’s the concept known as ‘lizard brain’ versus ‘human brain.”
Using a series of slides, Linstad ran down some statistics and factors that contribute to convenience store robberies which, ironically, are crimes of convenience: There’s cash on hand, windows are often obscured with ads, clerks normally work alone, and there’s good get-away potential due to poor lighting or isolation from public areas.
Most robberies occur between 6:30 and 10:30 p.m., which overlaps with the busiest time in general for calls for service for police, so officers have to juggle routine calls with the more urgent robbery calls.
Linstad offered some best practices – cooperating with a robber and then activating an alarm or calling 911 as soon as they exit the store are No. 1 and No. 2.
“Be observant. Take note of what the robber is wearing – especially notice their undershirt,” he said, noting that often a robber will shed their outer layers immediately to evade being noticed by police based on a description of outerwear.
He relayed an anecdote about a robbery in which the clerk provided a description of the robber as a white male, about 6-foot-2 inches tall. As Linstad and another officer headed to the store to take a report, they noticed a man walking on the side of the road. He did not fit the description, but Linstad decided to pull over and ask the man if he’d seen anyone that did.
“The man was about 5-foot-5 and Hispanic, so we weren’t looking at his as a suspect. I rolled down the window and asked him if he’d seen anyone in the area, and he took off running,” Linstad said. The punch line was that they chased him down and found him with items connecting him to the robbery.
“I can’t stress the importance of getting a good description,” Linstad said.
He also said it’s important to see if the robber gets into a vehicle or runs, and which direction they head in. Providing immediate information to police expedites the process, as that description immediately goes out to all 237 officers.
Other suggestions included: keep interior shelving low enough so that they can’t see what’s going on inside the store; use a drop-safe for larger bills and post a sign stating that there is minimal cash available to clerks; keep a stack of money in the register that you have recorded serial numbers for and hand that over to the robber, making the bills traceable and identifiable; and don’t try to be a hero – statistics bear out that a robber wants to be in and out within a minute. Pulling a gun or other weapon and trying to stop a robber could lead to unintended consequences, including the robber turning that weapon on a clerk, or creating a hostage situation. Most robbers don’t stick around long enough to use their weapons.
Attendees left with copies of a “suspect and vehicle description” form, which was the most useful takeaway for Steve Ray, who works at the Second Street Mobile. He was there with his boss’ blessing, who also paid him for his time.
“This is more an act of self-preservation. In four-and-a-half years we have been lucky, but the Z-1 Express right down the street gets robbed frequently,” Ray said. “I feel like it’s only a matter of time.”
Ray said he was going to scan the hand-out and make sure copies are readily available at his store.
Habib Ullah, owner of Dollar Deluxe on Union Street, wanted to know what he could do to get police to come out quickly for shoplifters. He described a situation in which someone stole cigarettes, and although he called police, no one came. A few weeks later the same person returned, so Ullah locked the store door — with 10 other customers inside — and planned to keep the man there until police arrived.
“Nobody came,” Ullah said. “So I asked him to pay me for the cigarettes he stole and he gave me my money. But my question is how do I get police to come faster. We want to work with you, and I wanted someone to come and take a report.
Capano said he would look into the particular incident, and talk with Ullah personally afterward. He explained that response time for a shoplifting call is going to be longer than for a robbery, but that police should always follow up with business owners.
Ullah has been operating his store for five years, and says the good still outweighs the frustration.
“We love the city. We want the city to be beautiful,” Ullah said. “In the summer we make sure we watch out for the kids in the neighborhood. We do our best to be good neighbors.
Amjad Rana operates Seven Days Market on Union Street, and while his store hasn’t been hit, Seven Days 2 on Spruce Street has been hit twice, which is just a few blocks away from Shawn’s Market, which was robbed twice in January.
“Last week was a tough week. Right now our biggest problem is finding people who want to work for us,” Rana said.
Capano said he was pleased with the turn-out. Any opportunity to spread the word about safety goes a long way to improve outcomes.
“We find that those store owners who have this information, it really makes the difference when we go out,” Capano said. “They are so much better off when it comes to providing the information we need.”
Mayor Joyce Craig said she felt such meetings are vital in connecting the dots that make for safer neighborhoods.
“We’re more successful when we work together,” Craig said. “Working in partnership with police, and providing information to store owners so they have a better understanding of how to set their stores up in a way that prevents robberies makes us stronger as a community.”
Any store owner who would like a free security survey by police should contact Officer Nate Linstad, 603-792-5437.