Archive for Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Graveyard shift has unique job perils

Threat of robbery, violence rises as night progresses

July 10, 2007


Night shift

Journal-World reporter Lisa Horn and photographer John Henry explore Lawrence after hours Enlarge video

The doorbell rings, ushering in another customer. At this time of night, it could be anyone.

Lawrence residents who work nights so that others can buy a late-night six-pack, fill up a tank of gas or check into a motel take their chances, but it's a risk they say they're willing to take.

Just two weeks ago, two Lawrence Kwik Shops, a Walgreens drug store and the International House of Pancakes all were robbed. All of the incidents took place after 10 p.m. No one was hurt.

Some businesses, despite the risk, often have just one employee working during the graveyard shift from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.

"I've never understood that," said Alvin "Joe" Schmidtberger, owner of Alvin's Wine and Spirits. "We've made a commitment to our employees - there's always two people in the store."

Some employers install security cameras and alarms, while others combine surveillance with a policy of having at least two employees on duty at a time.

Richard Montes, who has worked at Hallmark Inn on Iowa Street for two years, recently switched from the night shift and now works the motel's front desk from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m.

"I don't mind being here overnight," he said. "Yeah, it's kind of scary sometimes."

But, Montes said, he feels safer at his job simply because fewer people come overnight.

"In a gas station, you have more people coming in," said Montes, 26. "It's in the news all the time, clerks getting robbed or killed or something. I won't do it."

Night owls

At 10:30 p.m. on a recent Thursday, Kyle Flinn and John Augusto man their posts behind the counter at Alvin's Wine and Spirits on Iowa Street. Bottles of alcohol line the walls. A tiny television is tuned to VH1. A crowbar is behind the counter - just in case.

And though the liquor store employees said they've never had to use it, the weapon adds an element of safety.

"Usually, 99 percent of the customers that walk in, it's not a problem," said Augusto, 39. "The 1 percent of customers you just throw out."

Flinn laughed. For three months the Kansas University student has been an Alvin's employee - a job his mother worries about.

"(Augusto and I) always go out to the parking lot together," Flinn said. "That's the only time I would be really scared; that somebody would be waiting if we didn't sell to them or something like that."

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, homicides account for 16 percent of job-related fatalities. People most at risk are those who work late at night, work alone or handle money.

Strength in numbers

In addition to keeping at least two to three employees on the night shift, Schmidtberger ensures that the front windows of his two Lawrence stores are free of inventory and well-lit. The Alvin's owner, who has been in the liquor business since 1989, credits these tactics to his stores never being robbed.

"The biggest thing is having people in your store," he said. "We make them visible, too."

Another detraction to potential thieves is that more and more people are paying with credit or debit cards, so less cash is kept in the register than ever before.

"There's no cash left in the stores anymore," Schmidtberger said. "I'm happy with that."

At Hallmark Inn, Montes said he rests easier knowing that he can call police at the touch of a button.

"I accidentally pressed it once, and they were here," Montes said. "So I know it works."

Andrea Wright, another Hallmark Inn employee, also works the graveyard shift at the Zarco Phillips 66 gasoline station at Ninth and Iowa streets.

"I have an emergency button, but who's to say you can find that when (a robbery) happens?" she said. "I have a phone, too, but who's to say where I'm going to be when someone decides to rob the place, too?"

On alert

As the lone employee from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., Wright constantly must keep her wits about her as she restocks the cooler, picks up trash around the station and carts boxes to a garbage bin at the back of the property.

"I've never felt real threatened," said Wright, 49.

She would feel safer, however, if she had a co-worker to share her shift.

"Having two people here while somebody went and stocked the cooler, the other person could be at the counter or whatever," Wright said. "I feel pretty vulnerable in there."

Arron Atchison, 20, has worked at Java Break in downtown Lawrence for about two months and started on the graveyard shift. He works days now but said he always enjoyed the regulars who came in for their late-night caffeine kick.

"I think it's one of my favorite times to work. Also, there's interesting people that come in," Atchison said. "You kind of get to know them."

And just in case, a baseball bat has its place behind the counter.


jrwjayhawk 10 years, 11 months ago

Shameless plug for your own crap kocrime.....good point consumer, but its also a part of just subconscious safety feeling by just having the option to fight back if needed.

purplesage 10 years, 11 months ago

So Alvin's has never been robbed?. If I worked there (which I wouldn't) I would be careful. Some idiot will take up the challenge to be the first. And he will have something with greater range than a crowbar.

Amazing what some people let out in terms of information!

Linda Endicott 10 years, 11 months ago

Wouldn't it be possible, in this technology age, for employees to have some sort of device they wear on their belt, or around their neck (could be made to look like a necklace), kind of like the Life Alert thing? With a button they could push that would send a silent alarm to the police?

hawklet21 10 years, 11 months ago

jeeeeez what's so wrong about working at Alvin's? And really, do you think that criminals are prowling the LJWorld for their next victims?

Victoria 10 years, 11 months ago

"...And really, do you think that criminals are prowling the LJWorld for their next victims?"

Surprisingly, some of them actually can read. However the mention of a crowbar behind the counter might be a bit of a deterrant.

hawklet21 10 years, 11 months ago

What?!?!?! Criminals can read?!?!?! I didn't know THAT. I just meant that not everyone has the savvy that we do :)

50YearResident 10 years, 11 months ago

Disclosing the methods of defending a store publicly could result in a robber choosing that store for an assult because they are assured of little or no resistance. It is the same as posting a (no concealed weapons) sign on the entry door.

Katie Van Blaricum 10 years, 11 months ago

yeah. I don't think I would have given away the location of my "secret" weapon behind the counter.

Staci Dark Simpson 10 years, 11 months ago

Hey you can do a lot of damage with those items. My nephew was almost killed from a ball bat hit to the head. But I think a taser would be more fun. I personally would enjoy tasering the crap out of some loser that tried to rob me.

Baille 10 years, 11 months ago

I saw a video on the news a few years back where a man was robbing a convenience store with a gun. There were two people in a line in front of him when he started the robbery. The man closest to the robber tried to take the gun. It was a conscious, considered decision. You could see the thought cross his face and the decision being made. But he wasn't very aggressive about it. He kind of grabbed the gun and then tugged a little. Then let go and raised his hands as if to say, "My bad. No problem." The robber shot him dead.

First thing: the news showed the clip without any warning of what was about to be shown. Just played the clip. Guy gets shot coupl eof times and dies. The anchor was visibly shaken. As was I, I am sure.

Second thing: Consumer nailed it. Don't be a hero, but if you have to fight - run. If you can't run then fight like your life depended on it. Balls out, dirty, eye juice on your fingers fighting. Otherwise you are dead.

Victoria 10 years, 11 months ago

Rock, paper, scissors....gun wins. Criminals probably have that one figured out.

Janet Lowther 10 years, 11 months ago

I know of a liquor store which was on track to have all their people with concealed carry permits on day one. I don't know if it actually happened on account of personnel changes, but. . .

kneejerkreaction 10 years, 11 months ago

Things you shouldn't bring to a gunfight - knife, crowbar, ballbat, taser, pepper spray. Well, with all the "no weapons allowed" signs why would any business worry about getting robbed? Take your signs down you fools. You're advertising your vulnerabiltiy.

There have been a lot of Lawrence businesses robbed recently. Let's try this. All retail stores should be required to have at least one armed employee around at all times. The LJW could then do a big outrage story on that, because their liberal applecart agenda would be totally upset. But you want to bet that robbers would simply go elsewhere to rob?

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