Making Convenience Stores Safer

Crime at convenience stores is the subject of an eight-month study released by the City of Houston. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, a task force on convenience store security has several recommendations for store owners and police officers on how to improve safety.

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Houston Councilmember Adrian Garcia is a former police officer.

"I have been in a patrol car and responded to way too many robberies and homicides involving convenience stores."

Garcia is one of three councilmembers appointed to work with the Mayor's Task Force on Convenience Store Security. The group spent the past eight months reviewing a database that included the locations, crime statistics and safety features of more than 2,000 stores. They found nearly 7,000 crimes were reported at convenience store locations in 2006. Zaf Tahir is a convenience store owner and chaired the task force. He says they recommend the city appoint an advisory council and the Houston Police Department create a Convenience Store Unit. They also say store owners are willing to comply with proposed code and security ordinances.

"Store owners, from mom and pop to large oil companies, have agreed to a complete review of building codes and other methodologies that go into the construction and operation of these stores. The existing stores will be catergorized as high crime or low crime and the stores owners again have agreed to a different set of rules and restrictions moving forward."

The city will consider an ordinance requiring all store owners to meet minimum standards of adequate lighting, security training and education, surveillance cameras, silent alarm systems, a security window and drop safes. HPD Assistant John Trevino says stores will be given an ample timeline to pay for and implement any necessary upgrades, but in the meantime there are things owners can do to improve safety.

"Just simple steps of removing any type of clutter that you see in front of the glass that covers up the store, if you improve the lighting of the stores, regulate the amount of cash that you have within the store, just those minimal steps which are very inexpensive will improve their safety by 50 percent or more."

HPD reports crime at convenience stores has actually decreased by eight percent since 2003. But the study shows the perception of crime by store owners and customers remains high. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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