Millville businesses owners represented nearly every local industry at the Millville Business Persons’ Breakfast on Feb. 16.
The Ocean View Police Department’s Sgt. Heath Hall was a guest instructor for the breakfast, teaching businesses how to prevent or act during a commercial robbery, using lecture designed by OVPD Chief Ken McLaughlin.
Hall said that robbery differs from burglary because robbery involves “force or the threat of force and violence.” For instance, a criminal may display or imply a weapon during a robbery incident.
The most common times for the crime are when business is slow in the morning, afternoon and at closing. Yet business owners can limit crime opportunity by being attentive and proactive, Hall said.
Employees should be alert to suspicious people who are improperly dressed (such as wearing long coats in summer) or carrying bags for no apparent reason.
Robbers often loiter to collect information beforehand, he said. They may casually ask about the number of workers present, store hours and quiet times. Such loiterers may appear nervous, awkward or deceitful. Therefore, employees should always report suspicious activity to management or the police.
“Don’t just assume you’re wrong,” said Hall. “[Crime] is a real thing. If you think it’s gonna happen, call us. … Don’t feel bad about calling the police. That’s our job.”
To be proactive, Hall recommended, multiple employees should open and close the business. Windows should be kept clear of excessive displays, so dangerous activity can be observed.
Business owners can also lock non-public access doors and use crime prevention signage, queue lines and height tape on doors.
Hall recommended keeping contact with businesses neighbors or even developing a phone tree. Knowing and alerting neighbors to suspicious activity can help prevent crime.
All security alarm systems should be fixed if not working and maintained regularly. Hall compared a working security system to an insurance policy, saying, “You might complain about paying, but the one time you need it, you’ll be glad [you have it].”
“Always plan for [crime],” he said. “It’ll be a traumatic experience, but if you plan for it, it’s not as bad.”
Businesses should have an emergency plan and train employees for such situations.
Hall noted, “The No. 1 priority during a robbery is safety.”
During a take-over, victims must stay calm and cooperative. They should follow the robber’s instructions, informing him of any potential surprises so he will not be more agitated later. They should activate an alarm only if it is safe to do so.
“Do what you’re told, and try to be a good witness,” Hall instructed.
Witnesses should preserve evidence and be detailed in reporting the crime. They should try to observe the robber’s physical features, clothing, method of transportation and direction of escape.
After the incident, doors should be locked, police contacted, first aid administered and witnesses separated.
Witnesses should not discuss details afterward because they could influence each other’s stories. If witnesses must leave, businesses should obtain their contact information for the police.
Hall insisted that people never chase after perpetrators because “abduction changes everything.”
Hall explained that an abductor has the advantage once he transports a victim away from familiar territory. If such a situation arises, a person must fight rather than get in a kidnapper’s car.
In the worst-case scenario of a hostage situation, Hall instructed people to follow the robber’s instructions.
“If [a robber is] trapped in the store with you, avoid heroics and be patient,” Hall said. “Negotiations are under way and a rescue team is nearby.”
The first 30 minutes will be the most dangerous, he said, but the situation could last for many hours. When a rescue team enters, hostages should prepare for noise, seek cover, keep their hands visible and carefully obey the officers.
With an active shooter, employees should find a quick exit, take cover or barricade themselves in a separate room and wait for law enforcement. People should never engage an active shooter unless their lives are immediate danger, he said.
Hall explained that robbery is not a matter of “if,” but of “when,” so business must work to be “hard targets” for crime.
Commenting that even robbers take vacations, Hall said the beach is an ideal spot for metropolitan thieves because of the laid-back atmosphere.
“Try to stop it before it happens. … Trust your instincts,” Hall concluded. “If everybody takes preventative measures, maybe [potential robbers will] move on to the next town.”
After the information session, Millville business owners toured the new town hall building addition. In mid-March, town staff hope to be using new offices, conference rooms, fireproof filing systems and an emergency operations center, complete with a kitchen and full bathrooms.
Mayor Don Minyon thanked everyone for attending what will be his last Business Persons’ Breakfast as mayor. He also welcomed the new owner of Atlantic Auto Repair and mentioned an incoming ice cream shop and a new barbecue joint.
Finally, businesses owners were reminded to complete and return contact forms for the Millville Volunteers. The group scouts the town and can contact owners if they discover any problems at businesses, thus potentially preventing after-hours crime.
The next Millville event will be a town council meeting on Tuesday, March 8, at 7 p.m.