Hy-Vee creates its own armed security squad to deter crime

Discussion
Photo: Wikipedia/Runner1928
Jan 03, 2022

Hy-Vee last week announced the introduction of an in-house armed security team to manage theft and in-store disturbances.

The Midwest grocery chain said in a statement that it has long worked with third-party contractors or off-duty law enforcement that work in a security capacity. The goal of bringing it in-house is “to create a consistent look for the security team and consistent approach to customer service and security across all [its] stores.”

The move is also meant to address the rise in retail crime.

“I think across the country, we’re seeing an increase in thefts and different crimes in retail locations,” Hy-Vee Vice President of Security Jamie Sipes told KY3 TV in Missouri.

The uniformed officers, many with backgrounds in law enforcement, will be trained in de-escalation techniques and equipped with guns and tasers. Not every store across Hy-Vee’s eight-state region will have a security officer.

“We’re really a visual deterrent to criminal activity and violence,” Mr. Sipes said. “And so we are not looking to interrupt people’s rights. We’re there to be an extension of our legendary customer service within Hy-Vee to ensure the safety of our customers and our employees.”

The National Retail Federation’s “2021 Retail Security Survey” showed retailers in 2020 with a 57 percent hike in organized crime and a 50 percent increase in shoplifting. Reasons for the increase included operational complications caused by COVID-19, changes in policing and sentencing guidelines and the growth of online marketplaces.

Armed security guards are most commonly found in inner cities to combat high shoplifting rates, and incidents involving them often get heavy play in the media. In July, the family of a man killed by a security guard working at a Giant supermarket in Northwest Baltimore called for him to be charged. In August, a Kroger store in Memphis cut ties with security company Allied Universal following a second-degree murder charge against a security guard.

In May, a Casey’s convenience store on the south side of Iowa City “paused” its practice of having an armed security guard on-site after concerns were raised over racial bias and the message having armed guards sent to the local Black community.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Are more armed security guards the solution to the rise in shoplifting and organized crime at retail? Do you see more benefits than drawbacks to having an internal versus external security force?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Will consumers feel safer knowing there is an armed guard looking out for shoppers? Maybe. It depends on the guard and the experience and training that person has received."
"...retailers are reluctant to implement this except where shoplifting is way out of hand. The alternative for the retailer may be to close the location."
"...you have to ask, from a bigger, social picture, why is this happening? The answers are complex and not only up to retailers to fix."

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27 Comments on "Hy-Vee creates its own armed security squad to deter crime"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

It’s sad that retailers need armed guards to keep staff and shoppers safe. While Hy-Vee’s decision is understandable, and for stores in high crime areas it’s prudent, overall the idea of having armed guards at retail stores is disturbing. I visited retail stores in Nicaragua a few years ago, and they consistently had armed guards at the front of stores – let’s hope this is not our future in the U.S.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

Sad indeed. The topic is being discussed from all angles, including some municipalities lowering the penalties for theft, thus supposedly enabling an increase in theft.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust
Mark, with all due respect, let me offer a counter example. I remember as a much younger journalist wandering around Los Angeles during the Rodney King riots. The city was still smoldering, guns were everywhere and I was smack in the middle of one of those “high crime areas.” As you may know in those days there were a lot of what I called “U or C-shaped strip malls” in L.A. I came upon one center where an independent grocery store formed the largest retail block with smaller shops branching off its left and right wings. Both “wings” were burned and the supermarket was untouched. The owner was sitting at a folding table in front of his store with a box of money next to him, cashing welfare and other social assistance checks. Who sits in front of a store with a box of cash in the middle of the riot? The answer is a guy surrounded by Crips armed with fully automatic weapons. The gang was guarding the grocer. I interviewed him and discovered… Read more »
Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

What a remarkable story and incredible store operator/human being. The world needs more people like him. Thanks for sharing this Ryan.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

WOW! Is it this bad? As a shopper, I would feel very uncomfortable. Fortunately, I am not seeing it in my local stores. I don’t have it, but there must be a better solution.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

This is a slippery slope. There have been calls by city leaders in cities for retailers to get more involved in protecting their stores and this is a response to that. However this puts stores in a precarious situation when someone gets injured or worse and it becomes something else. I will be anxious to see how this develops over time.

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

For good and valid reasons retailers today have more or less broadcast a “we won’t stop you from stealing – help yourself” message to shoplifters. Perhaps Hy-Vee’s approach will deter would-be thieves and troublemakers from their doors, although I expect that it will move the problem elsewhere, not solve it.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

As consumers we have grown used to seeing uniformed, but not necessarily armed, guards at the front of stores like Louis Vuitton. At the grocery store? Not so much.

Will consumers feel safer knowing there is an armed guard looking out for shoppers? Maybe. It depends on the guard and the experience and training that person has received.

Hiring an in-house armed security team is terrifying if those guards receive minimal training before they are sent to the floor. I don’t know much about Hy-Vee’s training programs, but think how much training the average retail store associate receives before being sent to the sales floor. New protocols will need to be set and followed to the letter.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Making stores more like airports with armed personnel is most unfortunate. However there is a rise in retail crime and there is also an increase in violence against retail staff. Against that backdrop it is not unreasonable for Hy-Vee to take steps to increase security. In such a situation, it’s preferable for Hy-Vee to control and manage the security team rather than outsource such functions.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

I think it will be a deterrent to criminals. That said, uniformed policemen walking the store, it gives a feeling of fear. I can hear customers saying, “they wouldn’t be here if there wasn’t a problem.” This is a tough call. It is expected in high crime neighborhoods, but be careful Hy-Vee!

David Spear
BrainTrust

It’s very unfortunate that senior leadership has to take up precious time to make difficult decisions like this, but they have a responsibility to their shareholders, boards and communities to keep a safe and secure environment while patrons are shopping in their stores. With smash and grabs on the rise and overall theft at all time highs, alternatives to armed guards are thin. It’s my hope for 2022 and beyond that we see fewer and fewer “in-store” issues.

Jeff Weidauer
BrainTrust

Having visible, uniformed security might be welcome in certain stores, but it’s more likely to push shoppers away than to make them feel safe. Whether or not it will work as a deterrent to shoplifters remains to be seen. It’s a fine line for Hy-Vee to walk.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

On the whole, sadly, a move like this would definitely improve things — but it is another blow to the idea of physical shopping both from a customer perspective (can you imagine seeing those mass run-outs in person?) and from a retailer’s cost base. Also you have to ask, from a bigger, social picture, why is this happening? The answers are complex and not only up to retailers to fix.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

Armed guards are to deter potential shoplifters from entering the store rather than capture them after they have shoplifted. Unfortunately, it can deter customers for several reasons including their not wanting to be caught in a potential exchange of fire between the guard and a perpetrator. For that reason, retailers are reluctant to implement this except where shoplifting is way out of hand. The alternative for the retailer may be to close the location.

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

Armed security guards are a deterrent to shoplifting, but retailers need to weigh the risks of how escalation can turn into a much larger problem if training is not focused on local community and PR concerns. For grocery, average product price in the store assortment makes deterrence through armed security far less important than, for instance, a jewelry store. It’s not worth it if there are homicide charges brought up over a sirloin steak or candy bar. Paying armed security is not a low cost endeavor – usually the pay is as much as a store assistant manager, from $15-$20 per hour. The risks and additional costs will require justification and may be better suited for specific types of retailers.

Harley Feldman
BrainTrust

Unfortunately this is a sign of the times and Hy-Vee is taking a lead in addressing the issues of shoplifting and organized crime. Customers are worried about theft occurring when they are in the store. With Hy-Vee using its internal security force, customers will feel safer in the stores. As crime goes down in certain stores, Hy-Vee will be able to reduce the security forces accordingly. Hopefully we will get back to a time when crime is reduced and consumers feel safer.

George Anderson
Staff

Armed security guards will be a non-issue at the vast majority of locations, but I would like to know more about the training involved to be a member of Hy-Vee’s team since it only takes one error of judgment to tarnish the chain’s image in the communities it serves.

Retailers since the beginning of the pandemic have been trying to keep associates and customers safe by instituting mask requirements and social distancing measures. Will this now mean employees with firearms will be given the duty to make sure that corporate safety rules are followed?

What about dealing with mentally ill people or those under the influence who behave erratically in stores? Police forces around the country have not always done well in this regard. Will Hy-Vee or other retailers with their own security squads do better?

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Totally agree George. Seems like total mistake to me. Is any amount of product loss worth taking a life? I don’t think so. And you’re exactly on point about possible problems with the mentally ill. Here’s another example. Suppose someone is shopping with an aging parent suffering from dementia who just sticks things in their pockets? When confronted they are likely to panic and act “irrationally” and possibly even in an aggressive manner. Are you going to pull a gun on them? Yes they are shoplifting, but not consciously.

Scott Norris
Guest

The incident in L.A. over the holidays where the 14-year old girl was killed in a fitting room when a cop’s bullet went through the sheetrock should give every retailer pause. Hard to sue the police when use of force goes wrong. Easy to sue a store that employs lethal force.

The discovery process when the first innocent shopper gets injured or killed at a Hy-Vee will be very interesting.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust
In a word, no. In theory I like the idea of a standardized, professional security force with common policies, training, procedures and an organized command structure. That all makes sense. But, arm them against shoplifters? Doesn’t make sense to me. To begin with you are sending a message to your customers that you, as a retailer, don’t believe your stores are safe and are, in fact, so dangerous that armed response may be necessary. Next, are these guards going to shoot anyone for boosting a steak? Seems like that won’t stand up in courts, even in these days. Finally, I’m not sure about Iowa and other states but in Michigan once a shoplifter has left a store the store has no legal authority to pursue them. Like it or not, fair or not, that’s the law. So while I see a lot of positives about having an internal security force, arming them is asking for trouble. What happens, for example, when an employee pulls a gun on a shoplifter who pulls their own gun and… Read more »
John Karolefski
BrainTrust

Bravo, Hy-Vee. Armed security guards in supermarkets will be a welcome sight for shoppers. There’s too much crime in stores nowadays, including shootings.

James Tenser
BrainTrust

As a shopper, I’d likely avoid entering any store with visibly armed security, as it sends a message that the environment is unsafe. Hy-Vee will need to (has?) weigh the loss of business this decision may create against the actual cost of shoplifting.

Then again, I am not deterred by seeing an armed guard in a bank. Then again, banks are not self-service retail environments. There is no presumption of trust.

The grocery store model is based on low-friction, self service selling. This does depend on trust — that shoppers will dutifully select and present their items at checkout and pay for them. Social pressure helps the equation, but for shoppers under economic duress, this can be outweighed by sheer need.

Maybe community outreach would be a more effective way for Hy-Vee to build trust and lifetime customer value. They should run those numbers.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Solution? No. Are they helpful? It depends on the situation. Traditionally security guards were associated w/ valuables (banks and jewelery stores); so the association was positive (security = expensive) Here, though, I think the association is a negative one (security = high-crime) So while it may be successful at deterring theft, it may also deter shoppers. And the armament notwithstanding, it’s about deterrence…you really don’t want to be shooting people for boosting toothpaste.

Liz Crawford
BrainTrust

Feel safer? Hardly! Nothing feels so cozy as an armed guard lurking near the produce… Anyway – I do believe that we will see more of this as inflation impacts consumers’ ability to feed their families.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

This solution needs to be considered store by store. For shoppers living in a high-crime area, it may very well be a sign of assurance and safety to see an armed guard at the supermarket, but in other locations it may send the opposite message — that entering the store is a risky business. I can understand Hy-Vee’s desire to bring security in-house, but that brings with it a requirement for strict training. Hiring 3rd party services means you’re giving up control over how those armed security guards will diffuse a difficult situation, so bringing this in-house implies you want more control over that training. I don’t know what the best and proper training looks like, but let’s hope Hy-Vee is reaching out to those that do so that this doesn’t turn into another deadly incident on the local news!

Oliver Guy
BrainTrust
Oliver Guy
Global Industry Architect, Microsoft Retail
5 months 26 days ago

Wow. Living in a country where guns are a rare sight and police officers do not routinely carry guns this is always going to be a tricky one for me. I do know that I feel safe and secure at UK airports and major train stations seeing heavily armed police officers, but then the police badge is also part of that — knowing that the officer has been through specific training and vetting before being allowed to carry a weapon in this way. I am genuinely not sure how this would make me feel — but then were I aware of a series of incidents, then I would likely have a strong view in favour.

RazzBerry
Guest
I feel I should give a bit of background here. I live in the Midwest area and have been inside of Hy-Vee. Hy-Vee as it currently stands has no security what-so-ever. No guards and no Asset Protection. The reason why there is so much crime in these stores isn’t because of the lack of security, but because of the policies that Hy-Vee put in place. The policies that Hy-Vee has are as follows: team members and managers are strictly not allowed to lay a finger on a shoplifter. If they see shoplifting in progress they must go to a phone and call a code on the intercom to let the shoplifter think they are being watched and then stop shoplifting. That is all that management is allowed to do. So think about it, if I’m a shoplifter and I go into a store that I know for a fact management can’t do anything to me, do you think I’m not going to go to my friends and say “hey this store has no security and… Read more »
wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Will consumers feel safer knowing there is an armed guard looking out for shoppers? Maybe. It depends on the guard and the experience and training that person has received."
"...retailers are reluctant to implement this except where shoplifting is way out of hand. The alternative for the retailer may be to close the location."
"...you have to ask, from a bigger, social picture, why is this happening? The answers are complex and not only up to retailers to fix."

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