No pharmacy I have ever worked in has been robbed during my time of service. For that I’m grateful. Maybe some will think that disqualifies me from writing on this subject. I do admit that those who have actually been involved in an armed robbery can talk about it from a different perspective. Nevertheless, I have been working in retail pharmacy for over 20 years, and I know plenty of pharmacists who have gone through the terrible experience of an armed robbery. My conversations with them, combined with my own experience, research and concern, emboldens me to speak out about this important issue.
The news media has gone crazy lately showing footage of a courageous pharmacist in West Virginia who pulled his gun and shot down an armed robber in his pharmacy. His timing was perfect. His shots were perfect. The outcome was…as far as I’m concerned…perfect. As someone who believes in the rights associated with legal gun ownership (I own a gun too), and self-defense, I have nothing but respect for what this pharmacist did in a circumstance that could have ended in the loss of innocent lives.
You can watch the incident here:
THAT SAID – as a pharmacy professional and one who has spent a significant amount of energy and time trying to pass along “best practices” to the next generation of pharmacists – I recognize that this pharmacist did exactly what we try to discourage. He fought back and opened fire in a closed environment where even one unlucky move could have ended in tragedy. Yes, he came out (in my opinion) a hero. And as I said before, I take nothing away from that. But as an example for others to follow…I don’t recommend what he did.
This article is about pharmacy ARMED ROBBERY not burglary. Burglary is when a criminal breaks into your pharmacy after-hours. Robbery is when you are held up during business hours.
I do not claim to be a pharmacy crime expert. However, I have been in this field long enough that the advice you will find here is practical and achievable. I have read many articles on pharmacy security from well-meaning law enforcement professionals. Although I appreciate their concern, sometimes their advice just isn’t very practical. For example, having your cashier surrounded by bullet proof glass with a sliding drawer to accept cash just isn’t going to happen in most pharmacies. Or take this advice which I recently read “Install a device that sprays a mist on the robber as he or she leaves the pharmacy. The mist, which the robber cannot notice, contains a plant DNA that is visible only under a special light. Suspects seen with this DNA are thus linked to the robbery and easier to convict.” Cool idea, but I don’t see that happening any time soon.
So what should you REALLY do if your pharmacy is being robbed?
Prevent a robbery in the first place. Presumably you are not being robbed at the moment – so this is the perfect opportunity to remind ourselves about some common sense things we can do to prevent robberies. The following prevention tips not only reduce the chances of being robbed, but improve the odds of catching the robber afterwards. Every pharmacist should make it their own responsibility to ensure the following are done or in place:
- Security cameras which FACE the customer standing at the register. Have you personally gone to the security office and asked to see exactly where the cameras are looking? Do it. I would also repeat this process every 6 months to ensure they are aimed correctly. If you work for a chain pharmacy, they will likely have several cameras, some of which are aimed at preventing employee theft as well. That is fine. Just make sure that there are also cameras facing the customers. While you are at it, confirm that they are actively recording also. Ideally these cameras should be recording in color, not just black and white.
- Train your staff to INTERACT with all customers who enter your pharmacy area as quickly as possible. Let them know you see them. Creating such an atmosphere in your pharmacy is both GOOD for business and a strong deterrent to criminals who want to lurk around waiting for the right moment.
- Remind your staff about the location of a silent alarm. If you don’t have one, request one. Statistically the chances of catching a robber increase every minute the police get there faster. Instruct your staff on how to use it, and the importance of doing so without being seen.
- Ensure that all entrances to the pharmacy are normally closed. Do you have swinging doors that provide access to the pharmacy? Keep them shut.
- Place height tape markings near the exit or anywhere that a robber is likely to stand. This will help identify the height of the robber to authorities after the event.
- Never regularly work alone. A robber will likely case his target prior to his attempt. Times that a pharmacist regularly is alone in the pharmacy are opportunities that invite crime. Along the same lines you should never open the pharmacy early or re-open after closing to a stranger.
- Does your pharmacy (or chain) have a robbery policy? Consider printing a copy of it and keeping it in your CII safe.
2) DURING A ROBBERY
- Stay calm. The real HERO is the one who gets the robber out of the pharmacy and away from your employees and customers as quickly as possible with no one getting hurt.
- Listen. What do they want?
- Comply quickly. Give them what they want without delay. Remember that they are eager to get out and may resort to use force if they perceive that their demands are being handled slowly.
- Observe. Mentally note as much as you can about the robber such as gender, age, height, weight, clothing, weapon, vehicle, etc.
- Trigger the silent alarm if it can be done without notice. If not, wait until after the robber has left.
3) AFTER A ROBBERY
- Call 911 even if you have tripped the silent alarm
- Close down the store and avoid touching any surfaces that may have been touched by the robber
- Each witness should independently record what they saw
- Report any loss of controlled substances to the DEA
I highly recommend watching the videos provided by RxPATROL which you can find HERE.
If you want a brief review of robbery protocol directly from the DEA, here is a LINK.
To read my Pharmacy Times article on this issue CLICK HERE.
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