The Midwest grocery chain Hy-Vee is planning to place armed security guards in its stores across eight states in response to the climb of retail thefts during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The company, based in Iowa, released its plans earlier this week, and while it hasn't said if there was any specific incident that led to the decision, a company official said in an interview that a growing number of retail thefts across the country led Hy-Vee to bring in armed security, reports the New York Post.
"I think across the country, we’re seeing an increase in thefts and different crimes in retail locations," Hy-Vee Vice President of Security Jamie Sipes told KYTV in Springfield, Missouri. "[We] made the decision to move forward with a forward-facing security program that includes the tools that an officer would need to keep employees and customers safe."
According to Hy-Vee, the security officers, many of whom will already have law enforcement backgrounds, are to be trained in de-escalation techniques while being "equipped to protect the safety" of both customers and employees.
"Hy-Vee has a strong history of doing anything for our customers, and these officers will be held to that same standard," said Jeremy Gosch, Hy-Vee’s president and chief operating officer, in the company's press release. "These officers will help provide another layer of safety and security for our customers, and will work alongside our store employees to deliver the same helpful smiles and outstanding service everyone expects at their local store."
The company has long worked for some time with third-party security contractors or off-duty law enforcement, but the new security team is being created so that there will be a "consistent look for the security team and consistent approach to customer service and security across all of [our] stores," the company said.
The company is recruiting for its security team and said it hopes the teams will be in place soon.
Hy-Vee has approximately 285 stores and employs more than 93,000 people. The company's move comes as retailers nationwide are noting a climb in organized theft incidents and shoplifting, including smash-and-grab robberies through retailers such as Nordstrom and Louis Vuitton.
According to the National Retail Federation’s 2021 National Retail Security Survey, 57% of retailers say they have seen an uptick in "organized retail crime" during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kroger, another major grocery retailer, said thefts in the stores have accounted for 25% of the chain's gross margin declines, reports the Cincinnati Business Courier. Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen said the Cincinnati-based chain saw gross margins narrow by 0.6 percentage points and told analysts and investors that part of that loss was because of thefts driven by organized crime.
About 25% of the decline was from loss of inventory, or "shrink" that was "heavily driven" by such threats, McMullen said.
Mark Matthews, vice president of research, development, and industry analysis for the National Retail Federation, told the Cincinnati Business Courier that organized crime in such instances doesn't mean the mafia, but "organized gangs of people going into stores, often with many people at once to overwhelm security."
Such gangs also target delivery trucks and steal things of high value, he said, but theft of grocery items such as laundry detergent, which can be sold easily online, is also climbing.
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