Just before the 11 PM closing time on May 24, 2000, two armed robbers walked into a Wendy’s fast-food restaurant in Queens, New York. They forced seven workers into a walk-in refrigerator, bound, and gagged them, and shot each one in the head. Five of the employees died and two were found in critical condition but were expected to live.
The media onslaught following the Wendy's robbery and multiple homicides once again brought national attention to the risk of workplace violence at fast-food and late night convenience store operations. However, the message being told to the media is "how can we foresee and prevent such tragedies when robbers are so vicious and uncaring about human life."
This message sounds logical but there are underlying reasons why this particular restaurant was selected as a robbery target. It seems that one of the robbers had worked at this Wendy's before and had inside information about the restaurant and its security procedures. This same robber also worked at a McDonald's a year before and subsequently robbed it. He apparently had a warrant out for his arrest for failing to appear in court on that charge when he committed the Wendy’s robbery homicides.
Research tells us that most robbers pre-select their targets. Up until the moment that the robbers commit themselves to the crime, they are subject to being deterred. Studies have told us that robbers have a risk/reward criterion, but consider two main factors when choosing a location to rob: 1) lots of available cash and 2) the ability to get away clean. Examples of risk criteria that might dissuade them are the number of employees on duty, high customer traffic, video surveillance cameras, silent alarm systems, bad escape routes, and the presence of security or the police. The balancing factor is the perception of available cash versus the risk of getting caught. The greater the score the more risk they will undertake. In the Wendy’s case, the robbers only netted $2,400 (mostly in coin) and undertook great risk. The robbers probably expected to get three times that amount before committing to the risk controlling seven Wendy’s workers during the commission of this crime.
Robbery Prevention Secret
The secret to robbery prevention is to limit available cash and put all of the security measures out in the open so the potential robbers (even when disguised as former employees) can discover them. This way, the robbers can see, in advance, that your location is a poor target because of limited amounts of available cash and because the chances of getting caught are increased. Most businesses tend to hide their security fearing that the robbers will discover it and overcome the measure. Nothing can be further from the truth.
This theory of deterrence has been validated many times from interviews with incarcerated robbers and by the dropping crime rate at former targets. It’s simple math, good targets get robbed more frequently than poor targets. Criminals will still look you over but if you are doing it right the robbers will go down the street to find an easier and more lucrative target.
Deterrence Begins Within
In a business like Wendy’s, robbery deterrence training starts during the hiring procedures. Employee background and reference checks tell prospective applicants that they better not lie on their employment application. If a restaurant is consistent with this policy the word will get out on the street so bad applicants won’t even bother to apply. This former Wendy’s employee turned robber should have been rejected during the screening process. We also now know that one robber was a former McDonald’s employee who was fired for dishonesty. How on earth did he get hired at Wendy’s?
During the training process all new employees should be taught about robbery prevention procedures. These procedures should be designed to send a message to everyone that this Wendy's restaurant has solid cash control measures in place and has a video surveillance system with the videotape locked in a secure housing. This training should tell employees that excess cash is stored in a time-delay drop safe that cannot be immediately opened by the restaurant manager or that daily deposit can only be retrieved by an armored car security guard. If these procedures were implemented and taught to all employees, these robbers may have chosen an easier and more lucrative target.
Good robbery deterrence procedures should make it clear that large amounts of money were not readily available to anyone, including the manager. This is accomplished by using a time-delay feature on a safe that requires a waiting period of say 10-20 minutes before it can be opened. It is well settled that most robbers won't wait around for 10-20 minutes for a safe to unlock. This fact should be communicated to all employees and to the public by highly visible signage and the practice of dropping all large bills into a drop safe. Maybe that procedure wasn’t implemented at this restaurant or maybe the procedures were kept secret and the robbers incorrectly perceived a big score.
When Robbery Turns Violent
Most commercial robberies occur in less than a minute and without physical violence or injury to the employees. In this case the robbers took the time to relocate, bind, and gag all seven employees before killing them, execution style. To murder all the witnesses is not an original idea but still is a rare occurrence. It has happened before where a former employee has killed everyone to conceal his identity following a robbery. But why not wear a disguise? To plan such a grisly crime, the robber must have believed that a large amount of cash was available and therefore was somehow worth the risk of being identified. We know now that the robbery loss was less than $2,400. That's not a huge amount of cash for an urban Wendy's restaurant if the robbers accessed the safe. However, you can't always analyze street logic and the desperation of an armed robbery scenario. We don't know how desperate or sober the robbers were at the time. A robbery of $2,400 could buy a lot of drugs on the street or supply emergency traveling money.
How Could this Have Been Prevented?
Did this restaurant operate at risk by not having adequate security systems and procedures? Could it be that the restaurant had already made a bank deposit unbeknownst to the robbers or did the restaurant improve their cash handling procedures since the time they employed the robber? Did the restaurant manager either refuse or could not open the safe and was killed for it? Sometimes combination dial safes are impossible to open under duress. Were the subsequent murders committed to cover up the murder of the manager?
I’m not going to second-guess what could or should have been done to prevent this crime until all the facts become know. The whole truth about what security systems and procedures existed at this Wendy’s restaurant will come out during the criminal investigation and during the multiple lawsuits that will undoubtedly be filed on behalf of the victims families. Meanwhile, don't you think the men's clothing store where this assailant worked were shaking in their boots when they learned that they had hired a man who robs and kills former employers? I guess background checks were not done at that store either.
What do you think?
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