Robbery turned wrestling match

 
Dec. 16, 2010 | by D. B. "Libby" Libhart

The headline in the local newspaper caught my eye, “Pizza shop owner disarms robber,” accompanied by a photo of the grinning business owner with one of his delivery drivers. As a loss prevention professional I understand there are differing perspectives on this. I will give my perspective, but want to first state the facts of the article.

The incident started when a subject walked into a pizza shop late in the evening and ordered a small fountain soft drink while talking on his cell phone. Ten minutes later the same subject, the only customer, ordered a slice of pizza. The owner of the shop sent a delivery driver out and was left alone with the customer. The customer walked up to the owner, pulled out a handgun and demanded the cash. After getting the money, the robber wanted more and began searching the owner’s clothes. The owner then grabbed the gun and tussled with the robber. During the struggle the gun went off, but luckily neither was struck. The gun fell to the floor and the robber tried to run. The owner grabbed the robber by the sweatshirt but it came off and the robber got away, but not before dropping his ID and cell phone. The robber was later apprehended by police. The article also stated how much cash was taken in the robbery -- between $700 and $800.

Now some will say that survival mode kicked in for the owner of the pizza shop and he reacted out of self preservation in a split second decision; and that he had every right to defend himself in every way possible. I understand the thought. From my perspective -- based on investigating hundreds of armed robberies and several homicides in the fast food (QSR) environment -- it appears this owner may not have received training in robbery prevention or how to react during and after an armed robbery. In my opinion, he was extremely lucky he lived to tell about the experience.

When someone is hurt or killed during an armed robbery, it usually results from one of three reasons the victim resisted -- either by running, trying to wrest the weapon away, or pulling out their own weapon during the robbery. In my 35-year plus career in law enforcement and loss prevention, I have never been a part of a robbery prevention program that included resistance. To me, the article implies the owner as a kind of folk hero for doing so.

In this particular incident, there are several relevant points before, during and after the robbery that would be addressed in a sound robbery prevention program.

  1. The subject ordered a small soda; a ploy for the owner to open the register to see how much cash was in there. Talking on the cell phone disguised his paying attention to the open cash drawer.
  2. The amount of cash in the register was excessive and appealing to a prospective robber; a significant reward for the risk to be taken.
  3. After 10 minutes, the subject ordered a slice of pizza, prolonging his stay. It could be suspicious to order a drink and a slice of pizza 10 minutes apart rather than at the same time.
  4. The owner was left alone in the restaurant late in the evening, increasing vulnerability to robbery.
  5. The robber sat in the restaurant as the only customer, “casing” the opportunity to rob.
  6. The shop owner grabbed the gun and struggled with the robber.
  7. The owner’s name, photo, business address and quotes appeared in the newspaper.
  8. The amount of cash stolen was stated in the article. With that disclosure many other QSR’s in the area may now be vulnerable to robbery.

The owner of the pizza shop is alive and lucky and I am very happy for him. But this incident deeply concerns me. I think about the unintended consequences of all of this. Months from now, another robbery may take place in the community with a victim who read the article. In the back of their mind, at the moment of that split second decision on how to react, they may recall this incident of grabbing the gun had successful, heroic results. But perhaps in that robbery we will be reading a very different headline - one full of tragedy and grief. Will any of us connect it as an unintended consequence of how this incident was portrayed today?


D. B. "Libby" Libhart / D.B. “Libby” Libhart has more than 30 years of experience in the loss prevention industry. He has provided security and safety leadership in retail settings such as department stores, drug stores and quick-service restaurants. Before launching his own company, LossBusters, Libby served as the Senior Director of U.S. Security and Safety for McDonald’s Corp. He entered the QSR industry with Taco Bell and subsequently YUM Brands.
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