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Pharmacy Robbery Prevention: Life-Saving Tips and Tricks


Based on a presentation by Officer Jeff Hartshorn, Crime Prevention Specialist

The number of pharmacy robberies has been steadily increasing over the past several years, and many are lacking the proper policies and procedures to adequately deter them. Do you know what to do to prevent robberies, and how to act in the event of one? Read on for some helpful tips on what to do before, during, and after a robbery.

Robbery vs. Burglary – What’s the Difference?

A robbery occurs when a person, having the intent to commit a theft, assaults, threatens, or intimidates another, placing them in fear. In contrast, a burglary occurs when any person enters an occupied structure, having no right, license, or privilege to do so, to commit a felon, assault, or threat. Robberies are crimes against individuals, whereas burglaries are acts against structures. The proportion of pharmacy robberies to burglaries is increasing, so it is crucial that everyone be aware of what to do in such a situation.

What are robbers looking for?

Robbers and burglars target pharmacies for hydrocodone, oxycodone, and other opioid-based tablets. Prices on the street are around $10 per tablet, with higher prices on increased dosages. While some rob for profit, others rob to satisfy individual addictions. Robbers and burglars also target large quantities of pseudoephedrine-based products for usage in methamphetamine products. And sometimes, the drugs aren’t the target, as robbers will occasionally target the checkout registers only for cash.

What to Do: Before a Robbery

To adequately prepare for a robbery, it is important to consider “target hardening” measures, installing technologies that will aid in theft prevention.

Installing cameras not only aids investigations of robberies, but also acts as a deterrent. Place cameras in locations most likely to catch robbers, including entrances and all customer transaction points. CCTV, or closed circuit television monitors, can also be incorporated in these key locations to show customers they’ve been seen on camera. Alarm equipment should be installed to act as a further deterrent and protect employees, including duress alarm buttons placed in accessible positions. It is important to ensure that these technologies are functioning properly and that all equipment is checked on a regular basis.

Other target hardening measures include limiting customer access to the pharmacy area, marking doorways with tape for height identification, and minimizing the amount of controlled substances stocked or available for access. Pharmacies must have a policies and procedures guideline in place to prepare staff for robberies. All employees must be trained on how to act in these situations.

When considering the various security options, it is helpful to remember that a balance should be maintained between target hardening and patient satisfaction. It’s possible to make a pharmacy nearly impossible to rob, but there’s a risk of losing customer service. Additionally, prevention measures can end up being more costly than potential losses incurred from theft. Sometimes, providing great customer service and training observant employees can be as big a deterrent as any technology.

 What to Do: During a Robbery

The priority during a robbery is always the protection of life. Additional, secondary, goals include getting the robbers to leave the pharmacy as quickly as possible with as little money and product as possible and taking steps to become a great witness.

The key is to be watchful and aware of the patients in the pharmacy. Most robberies only last an average of 20-40 seconds, though they seem significantly longer. Taking note of facial features can play a large role in any future investigation. Observing the robber’s clothing can also be helpful, especially anything worn underneath an outer garment. Once a robber leaves a pharmacy, he or she will likely shed any hoodie, hat, or sunglasses, but remembering a t-shirt worn underneath or a pair of shoes can aid in the robber’s identification. Being able to describe any weapon used can also be helpful to investigators.

Treat the robber like any other customer. Comply with any demands and remain cooperative and calm. The goal is to get the robber out of the store as quickly as possible. If the robber claims to have a gun, presume it to be real. Don’t antagonize him or make him show it to you. Avoid making sudden movements or talking unless answering a question. The alarm should not be activated until after the robber has left the store.

What to Do: After a Robbery

The first steps following a robbery should always be to:

  • Lock the doors
  • Check for injuries and the status of other employees and customers
  • Immediately call 9-1-1

These actions should take mere seconds. Preparation is key, as all employees must know what they need to do and be able to do it quickly. Every minute, the robber could be another mile away.

After securing the area and activating the alarm, watch for the direction of escape, if possible. If the vehicle can safely be seen, take note of the make, model, color, license plate, and any unique features. Identify and separate any witnesses, including both employees and customers. Don’t let them talk to each other. Instead, have them each write down what they observed.

Following a robbery, temporarily discontinue doing business. Block off all areas that may contain evidence. It is also helpful to assist in identifying any customers served immediately prior to the robbery. Though not in the store at the time of the act, they may have made unique observations.

In the end, the most important thing is that everyone remains safe. Taking time to plan for robberies can help decrease confusion and minimize losses. In the past few years, pharmacies have become a bigger target for both robberies and burglaries than financial institutions. The implementation of certain procedures can help diminish this risk and protect the lives of everyone involved.