It can be so easy that a business owner forgets to lock the back door at night. Or maybe the front door has glass panes and isn’t as strong, making it the perfect target for a break-in.
Tempe Police Detective Ryan Cook says several recent crimes against South Tempe businesses were likely avoidable.
“Take just a minute to secure your business at the end of the day. It’s often that simple,” says Cook.
The Peppermill and the Word of Mouth Grill, both in the Strip Center at 7660 S. McClintock Drive, off Elliot Road, were recently burgled.
So does The Energy House, a mile south at 1721 E. Warner Road in McClintock — for the third time in 2½ years that Karly Olson, 30, has owned the energy-nutrition bar, which features meal replacement shakes, green tea and Energie serves drinks and has a full protein coffee bar.
Olson said in conversations she’s had with other small business owners in the area and on Interstate 10 in Ahwatukee, burglaries — smash-and-grabs in some cases — seem to be a trend. Olson says surveillance video suggests it could be the same person.
Law enforcement officials are unwilling to confirm that. In fact, Cook said, the crimes aren’t necessarily aimed at small businesses.
“These are crimes of convenience,” said Cook, a member of the department’s Chief Office of Community Policing — formerly the Tempe Crime Prevention Unit.
Olson’s break-in into the power house was through the front door, where panes of glass were broken out and the burglar then reached in to open the door.
“I walked in the back door the next morning,” Olson said. “As I walked upstairs I noticed it was a bit open. My heart just opened up. I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m the one who locked yesterday, I can never imagine not locking that door.’
“As I walked forward, three small windows in the front door were broken.”
Olson said the burglar took only the cash box, which contained less than $100.
“They just took the money. They left iPads, they left the tip jar,” she said. “They obviously wanted to get in and out quickly and exited through the back door.
“This seems to be a common topic when I speak to the owners. They grab the register, they leave anything traceable like an iPad, they grab something and go out the back door.”
Cook, who has been with the department for nine years, said there was a similar series of crimes north of US 60 before the COVID-19 pandemic. Through police outreach and the collaboration of business owners, the streak was eradicated.
“I work with these small business owners all the time, just to reach out and connect with them,” Cook said. “At Peppermill and Word of Mouth, I know both owners very well. The Peppermill incident was not a slugfest. An employee had left the back door unlocked overnight.
“I was looking at CCTV of the Peppermill incident. The gentleman who was there showed very unusual behavior. I don’t know if it was caused by a mental situation or possibly by drugs. Eventually he just pulled the door handle and it opened and he went inside. He didn’t take Apple laptops or expensive bottles of alcohol. He didn’t even take cash. He took the strangest, smallest objects.”
Cook has several security suggestions for business owners, especially small business owners. In general, he says, crimes of convenience against small businesses boil down to securing property outside the building.
“If there’s a patio or seating outside, like Word of Mouth, it can be a hassle to bring it in at the end of the night or wire it outside, but it helps keep unwanted people out in the middle of the night,” he said.
Cook also recommends monitoring the property with the owner’s own camera system or hiring a surveillance company.
When Wi-Fi is offered, he says closed networks are best.
“So at night, those who are just looking for open Wi-Fi don’t come to the site,” he said. “Also secure all outside sockets. There can be unwanted traffic at night when there is free WiFi and electricity.”
A laminate on windows so it’s difficult to look in but easy to see out to maintain alertness is good, according to Cook.
Inside the building, Cook says motion-detection systems are a good choice. Cameras placed in opposite corners of the facility are also helpful for a criss-cross view.
And he adds: “Never, ever, ever leave cash in the till. At the end of the night, store it somewhere e.g. B. in a safe, but never leave it in the register. That’s the first line of attack: you go straight to the cash register.”
Cook’s responsibilities include conducting safety assessments of companies, both existing and planned and under construction. The Tempe Police Department, he says, places a strong emphasis on crime prevention through environmental design.
Walking through Olson’s power house, he found that it was easy and relatively quiet to break out the front door panels to gain access.
“A rock in a sock,” he said. “It breaks inward. It is quiet.”
Olson said it would cost about $300 to replace the broken glass panes, but closer to $1,000 to replace the front door with a more secure design. That’s a lot of money for a small company. Her insurance has a $500 deductible, she says, but is only payable if the damage is more than $5,000, which hers doesn’t.
Cook encourages companies to do what Olson and others do: connect and share information.
“In the pre-COVID series of burglaries, we had an officer in our unit form a business alliance. The hotels, convenience stores and apartment complexes in the area got together and talked to him. What do you see? Have you seen this person? Any unusual or suspicious behavior?” said Koch.
Olson will eat up the burglary repair costs and lost cash for the third time.
“It’s kind of tough,” she said. “It’s so quick. You grab the register and you’re gone. All of these people have alarm and camera systems, but it’s so fast that those things don’t even make a difference. Our police can only go so fast.
“But we can educate people that this is an issue and we all need to watch this stuff and tune in.”