By Terry Blevins
I am a former law enforcement officer and security expert for the U.S. Department of State. I currently own Armaplex Security in Los Angeles, and have worked to develop security plans with hundreds of cannabis companies throughout California.
I have recently been asked a lot of questions in regards to looting, and how thefts have affected cannabis businesses across the state.
My heart goes out to the operators who were targeted. Some of the stories are really tragic. This industry has suffered a lot of setbacks and this was the last thing we needed.
I have been speaking to operators, scouring the news, internet, and social media groups dedicated to canna-businesses and to cannabis security. I also had security guards at legal cannabis businesses in the areas that were looted, and I think I have a pretty good understanding of what happened. As such, here are some measures that might help industry operators when this happens again.
First, it’s important to note that the looters were successful this first time. So you can be assured that they will repeat it if the opportunity arises.
Fortunately, our Armaplax security guards were able to repel the attempts that were made on the businesses where my company was posted. However, other businesses were not so fortunate. I am not going to tell you that me or my company had a magic bullet because this situation was completely out of control. But I do believe that we did do some things right, and we have definitely learned some lessons.
I don’t have exact numbers or statistics yet. However, there were different types of cannabis businesses that were affected during the recent looting and at different degrees. I believe that most of the looting and robberies that happened at cannabis businesses were done by opportunists who knew that the police were tied up with demonstrations and with looters in other areas.
We do know that there were caravans of individuals driving around and smashing windows to grab what they could. However, they did not have weapons. We also know that there were several groups of armed people who were robbing cannabis businesses in a manner that was very similar to normal robberies.
Several of my security guards reported seeing vehicles that they believed were scouting their site in order to decide if they were a good target, and probably to advise other individuals on their team. We train our guards in what is called “surveillance detection,” which basically means that they are “watching to see who’s watching.”
Most of the businesses that were hit were retail shops that were very visible, and had a lot of glass windows and doors. Some wholesale businesses were hit as well, but that was a much smaller number.
In L.A., most of the businesses that were hit were retail shops. In Northern California, both retail and wholesale businesses were robbed. A couple of wholesale businesses in Northern California said that groups of armed people broke into their businesses and were able to come and go for hours because police were not responding to calls.
Most businesses lost what product they had on their showroom floors. A much smaller number of businesses had their secure storage rooms broken into. I don’t believe that any floor safes were broken into (this means closed and locked but defeated)—but if there were, please contact me at Armaplex Security.
I know that many retailers in this industry want to move to a more open retail concept, more like an Apple Store Concept. But keep in mind that having a secure lobby can slow looters and robbers down.
I agree that eventually this is probably where this industry was headed before the looting. But I think things have changed. I certainly have changed my mind about some security measures since the looting occurred.
I have put quite a bit of thought into it since, and have come up with some considerations below. It’s not a comprehensive list—but it certainly touches on the vulnerabilities that would make canna-businesses an easy target during looting and other intrusions.
Remaining secure is really all about installing the proper security architecture and then requiring personnel to diligently follow procedures by using that equipment. Employees who take shortcuts will always have those exploited by others.
How Cannabis Businesses can Stay Secure:
- Develop and train your employees on a specific set of procedures to be followed in the event of intrusion.
- Managers should subscribe to local emergency notifications so they will be aware of any situation that might affect the business.
- Have a secure lobby where visitors can enter the very front door freely, but must be buzzed-in by someone behind a security window in order to move further inside the showroom. If suspicious activity is occurring outside the building and the front door cannot be locked, employees should move behind the second layer, and preferably further inside into the limited access areas or secure rooms.
- Do not leave any product on the showroom floor during the day, and especially not at night. Having orders filled in a “Day Vault,” otherwise known as a “Secure Fulfillment Room,” means that product is stored inside a secure room and orders are passed through a “Secure Fulfillment Window” to sales personnel. This extra layer slows perpetrators down and greatly extends the time that they would need on-site in order to break through to steal cannabis product from vaults and safes. Day vault personnel should be trained to immediately place high-value product inside a large floor safe if there is a threat. They should also close any doors and secure the fulfillment windows with a locking cover that was hopefully included at installation.
- All high-value cannabis product (i.e: concentrates and others) should be kept inside large, heavy-duty TL-30 Floor Safes at all times—even during operating hours. You should have at least two of these on site.
- All cash that goes over pre-determined “drawer limits” should be taken into a secure office or passed through the window into the fulfillment room. Cash should be going into a drop safe during operating hours, and then into a separate TL-30 Floor Vault if amounts accumulate to unsafe levels.
- All glass windows and doors should have security film overlays. This film is actually called “Riot Control Security Laminate.” Here is a the company, the Safe Haven Defense Group, that I recommend to my clients. You can also upgrade to bullet resistant film, which is what I recommend in areas of high risk.
- In case of suspicious activity or reports of criminal activity nearby, employees should follow specific procedures. As I mentioned before, drills should be conducted so that employees can practice these procedures:
How to Practice Drills:
- Security officers and any employee should be authorized to temporarily close and lock the front door if they see something even slightly suspicious or hear that there is criminal activity nearby.
- During this time, customers cannot be blocked from leaving, but should be advised that if they leave, their safety could be at risk. The door should be immediately closed and locked behind them if they decide to leave, or they can leave via another exit if that is found to be safer.
- Security officers or other employees should check all other doors, gates and windows to ensure that everything is locked. Managers should check all vaults and safes to make sure they are closed and locked.
- Managers that have keys or combination codes should immediately sequester themselves inside a locked office or vault so they won’t be taken hostage and forced to give access to intruders.
- It is very important to have discussions regarding the use of deadly force by your armed security guards prior to any situation arising. The State of California does not allow the use of deadly force to prevent damage or theft of property, and I don’t think this industry wants to be known as promoting the killing of anyone to protect their product. Be sure to speak to your lawyer about this issue first.
- If you have a security consultant that you’ve been working with, reach out to them and work through some of these things and other recommendations that they might have.
- Although this would be a last resort, have a plan to move your high-value product to a more secure site. If you have followed all of the recommendations above, and others from your security consultant, you should not have to resort to this measure. Keep in mind that product is the most vulnerable when it’s being moved.
I hope that this industry can implement some of these measures, especially in businesses that operate in high-risk areas such as large cities where looting seems to be more prevalent and police response times are slower. I truly believe that if specific architecture is put in place, and procedures are followed religiously, businesses can greatly reduce the impact if more looting were to occur.
Best of luck to everyone and please stay safe!
Terry Blevins was a law enforcement officer, security expert for the U.S. Department of State, private security expert and founder of Armaplex Security in Los Angeles. Armaplex provides security guards mostly for cannabis businesses. Terry has written over 350 security plans for cannabis businesses throughout California. He has also been advocating for legalization and drug policy reform as a speaker and board member of Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP). For more information, visit www.leap.cc