The Kingwood Division of the Houston Police Department (HPD) provided a memorable presentation on its aggressive and successful Convenience Store Security Program at the April 17 Kingwood Positive Interaction Program (PIP). The convenience store program, developed as a result of a rampant rise in store robberies in the early 2000s, has been largely responsible for a great improvement in overall safety and security.
Since its development in 2008, its limited test in one area in 2009, and its full implementation in 2010, the program has resulted in a major reduction in robberies, as much as a 77% improvement in 2012 compared to 2007. With that reduction has come a big reduction in other crimes, including associated murders by 80%, aggravated assault by 79%, and burglary by 44%. The program has set a national standard and is being emulated by many other cities in the United States.
Officer Daniel Von Quintus introduced his presentation with a summary of why the program came about. He explained that a convenience store is specifically defined, but for most purposes it is a store of less than 10,000 square feet. They are often part of a gas station or of a small group of stores and services along the road. Von Quintus noted that in 2007 there were a little over a thousand convenience stores in the city of Houston and they were everywhere, just as they are today, except that there are a lot more in 2019 than there were in 2007.
“In 2007, 1,138 robberies of convenience stores occurred, so when you think about it, that’s a lot. That many robberies is outrageous,” said Von Quintus. He explained that there were also 10 murders, eight rapes, 414 aggravated assaults and 475 burglaries that year associated with those same convenience stores. The result was the formation of a task force by the City of Houston that included HPD; major petroleum companies, including Exxon and Valero, which have convenience stores at many of their gas stations; corporate loss-prevention experts; The Greater Houston Retailers Association; and other City of Houston departments.
Von Quinton explained how the group used a process called SARA to scan (identify all the recurring problems associated with the robberies), analyze them, respond with a program recommendation, and then assess the program to evaluate and adjust it as needed once it was implemented. The result was the enactment of a city ordinance in 2008 under Houston City Mayor Bill White that established an eight-part set of “Pillars,” requirements and actions for convenience stores and HPD to follow to reduce the robberies. In addition, Von Quintus pointed out many other agencies and groups participated and continue to do so in support of the program.
Von Quintus explained that even though the statistics indicated one could expect every store in Houston to be robbed on average of once a year, that was far from what was actually happening. The statistics showed otherwise. “Only a few stores were robbed many times and the others not so much,” Von Quintus said. He explained how the analysis resulted in the development of a set of Best Practices.
“They (the safer stores) are well lighted at night and they are more trafficked at night. The robbery rate between chain stores and individually owned stores varies widely,” Von Quintus said. He pointed out that the chain stores had already developed their own Best Practices and it showed in the statistics.
The eight “Pillars” of the program and its requirements by law are as follows:
- Registration of each store, free of charge but with criminal penalties for not doing so.
- Annual training of all employees, managers and supervisors in an established safety program that includes cash handling safety, robbery prevention and what do in case of a robbery.
- A signed agreement called a Trespass Agreement that allows police to enter the premises without permission at any time.
- Signage including “No Trespass” and “Height Strips” appropriately placed at the doors.
- An unobstructed view. This means an unobstructed line of sight to the cash register and sales transaction areas through all windows and public access doors.
- A silent hold-up alarm and panic button. The button must be within reach from a cash register and out of sight.
- A cash-handling accountability policy which states the maximum amount of money to be kept in the cash register area, requires a minimum-access “drop” safe bolted to the floor, and public signage that says employees have minimum cash at the register and no access to the safe. The use of an armored car is suggested for cash pickup but it is not required.
- A minimum two-camera surveillance system with date and time recorded and kept available for 30 days. One camera must cover the cash register area and the other must cover the entrance to the store. They must run all the time, including when the store is closed.
Coincidentally a Kingwood resident, Matt Tielkemeiger, was at the meeting and reported on his recent “ride along” which is a PIP-HPD program that enables residents to ride along in a police car during a routine patrol to see how HPD does its job. He reported how impressed he was with the professionalism of the officers he rode with and said he had never ever looked at his home area in Kingwood the way they do every day. He emphasized the effort the officers put into working with convenience store owners and employees and how much time is spent on checking for compliance.
“What I saw wasn’t people going out and writing tickets and punishing people. It’s about compliance, their thing is compliance. It is about safety. It is about our safety,” Tielkemeiger said.
The Kingwood PIP meets the third Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at the Kingwood Church of Christ, 2901 Woodland Hills Drive. It is open to the public and all residents are welcome. Both HPD and the Kingwood Service Association’s Public Safety Committee encourage area residents to attend and participate.