Indiana Bill Fueled by Shooting Targets Convenience Stores

December 19, 2012

Convenience stores that have been repeated victims of crimes would have to follow stricter regulations designed to increase the security of workers under a bill being proposed by a Democratic state lawmaker.

State Rep. Ed DeLaney said he plans to introduce legislation targeting late-night convenience stores as a result of a shooting that left a Village Pantry clerk with severe brain trauma. The October 2011 robbery was at least the sixth holdup that clerk Marcella Birnell, who was working the overnight shift alone, had experienced while working at that store and another one in Indianapolis.

“I think we’ve had enough incidents,” DeLaney told the Indianapolis Business Journal. “We need the members (of the Legislature) to look at those incidents, the cost of those incidents.”

DeLaney’s proposal, which is modeled after a 1992 Florida law, contains two tiers of rules for “convenience businesses,” which are defined as stores that primarily sell groceries, or groceries and gas, and are open from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m.

The first set would cover all convenience stores and require them to have security cameras, drop safes or cash-management devices. It also mandates that parking lots be lit, windows have clear views, entrances have height markers and that stores post notices saying that cash registers contain no more than $50.

Stores also would be required to give employees safety and robbery-deterrent training.

Stores that have a history of crimes that Indiana law describes as “offenses against the person,” such as robbery, assault or homicide, would have to choose one of five options from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m.: have at least two employees working; install a bulletproof enclosure for employees; have a security guard on duty; lock the doors and conduct business through pass-throughs; or close during those hours.

Stores that go two years without another crime covered by the law would be able to seek an exemption from the stricter requirements.

DeLaney said the two levels of regulations allow flexibility for stores that have a low crime risk.

“The experiences around the country seem to indicate that some locations have more problems than others,” he said. “We’re trying to balance the size of the regulatory burden versus the risk. This seems to be the best balance that we could come up with.”

It’s unclear how much success DeLaney will have with his bill in the Legislature, where Republicans have supermajorities in both the House and Senate.

Some of DeLaney’s proposals were part of a report issued in June by the Late Night Retail Working Group that drew fire from industry lobbyists as being unreasonable.

The Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association said there is no definitive evidence that many of the security measures being suggested deter crime or protect workers.

Scott Imus, the association’s executive director, said requirements such as having two clerks for crime-riddled stores could cause a dangerous situation to escalate.

“With two clerks, what you will have . is, the person holding the gun is already edgy, is jumpy,” he said. “And he will go off or she will go off because they’re amped up. You can very well wind up with two victims instead of one.”

He also opposed the tougher regulations for stores that have crimes.

“Under this scenario, a small-town convenience store that had been operating for over 40 years without a single incident could suddenly be forced to comply with expensive government-prescribed safety mandates just because it fell victim to a single robbery attempt,” he told the IBJ.

Republican Rep. Jerry Torr called DeLaney’s bill “overly broad” and said he doubted it would get a hearing in the Employment, Labor and Pensions Committee.

“Most employers will protect their employees. And employees, they can look at the situation and decide if they feel safe. Employees work there voluntarily,” Torr said.

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