Two armed robberies within minutes at a pair of Gainesville convenience stores Thursday have police looking for suspects who could strike again.
Meanwhile, one expert on store security said that with a few exceptions, most convenience stores don’t do enough to dispel their reputation among robbers as easy targets.
At about 4 a.m. Thursday, two men entered the Kangaroo at 1680 Park Hill Drive and robbed a 25-year-old clerk at gunpoint. Minutes later, a 63-year-old clerk at the Kangaroo at 615 E.E. Butler was robbed by the same two men, police believe.
Neither clerk was injured, and the men got away with a small amount of cash, Gainesville police Lt. Brian Kelly said. They were described as black males in their 20s, wearing clothing over their faces, one with baggy jeans that exposed green checkered boxer shorts. A gold 1990s Chevrolet Blazer was seen leaving the scene of the second robbery.It was the second time since November that the Park Hill Drive Kangaroo has been robbed at gunpoint. Two men were later arrested in the Nov. 12 robbery, Kelly said.
J.R. Roberts, a Savannah-based security consultant, said the circumstances of Thursday’s robberies are particularly troubling.
"Statistically, when you have more than one perpetrator, the risk of violence goes up," Roberts said. And a "spree" offense, in which more than one crime is committed in a short span of time, "has the potential of becoming more violent more quickly," Roberts said.
"Unless these guys are caught, they’re going to continue," Roberts said.
Roberts said convenience stores are often regarded as "stop and robs" by criminals because of the perception that they are a "quick, easy and a low risk to the felon."
Roberts pointed to Florida, which passed legislation mandating that convenience stores meet a certain level of security, and how it led to a 26 percent reduction in armed robberies.
"Crime prevention through environmental design makes a difference," Roberts said.
One industry leader is QuickTrip, which sees fewer armed robberies than other convenience stores largely due to its emphasis on security.
"I think it’s well known by everyone that the safety of our customers and employees is paramount," said Mike Thornbrugh, manager of government and public affairs for the Tulsa, Okla.-based company, which operates 110 stores in Georgia, including one on U.S. 129 in Gainesville.
Employee training, technology, lighting, store design and location go into making a safer store, Thornbrugh said.
Clerks work on raised platforms for a better vantage point, windows are largely clear of view-blocking signages and parking lots are brightly lit. Activities are monitored with multiple cameras, and employees are trained on what to do when a crime occurs, Thornbrugh said.
A heavy law enforcement presence also helps. Local police and deputies are encouraged to stop in during breaks, adding another layer of security.
As some stores become harder targets, Roberts, the security consultant, has noticed an emerging trend: criminals are increasingly targeting drive-through restaurants, many of which have in recent years added the late-night hours that robbers prefer.
"As convenience stores began to make changes, I see them moving over to the fast-food joints," Roberts said.