Robbery…An Uncomfortable Truth


RobberyBy Fraser Duff

For over two decades now there has been a common belief amongst safety and security experts that the best way to survive a critical incident and traumatic event such as robbery is to be compliant to a robber’s demands. The idea being that following this simple approach, it will, in the balance of probabilities, afford you the greatest opportunity of survival and minimise consequential harm. This approach is based upon a strong belief that there is a connection between victim resistance and victim harm.

There are many examples of victims who have been non-compliant, predominantly driven by the goal of “social justice”, including; challenging, resisting, fighting, chasing and attempting to capture robbers in the commission of their crimes. Those victims have paid a high price, sometimes fatally for their error in judgment. So it seems the main premise behind compliance is the perception that victims have one of two options; to comply or not to comply. Since non compliance is construed as offering resistance, it is therefore naturally associated with increasing the risk.

Having researched this traumatic event for many years domestically and internationally and conversed with many hundreds of victims, you start to question if indeed compliance does adequately address all foreseeable risks that can arise. When you challenge this assumption, as you should, you start to uncover some hidden truths, truths that really belie your beliefs about what is right in a circumstance that could cost someone their life.

An incident some 6 years ago challenged my thinking significantly about what people really need to know about robbery. The victim and organisation will remain anonymous as I convey the events; however the details will reveal a grave situation. This was an incident in which we were required to provide an opinion in relation to the adequacy of control measures taken to protect an individual whilst performing duties in a workplace setting. It involved a legal challenge at common law tort of negligence and statute law OH&S at the time.

A young male person in his mid 20’s was working alone carrying out cash transactions with customers. During the mid afternoon he happened to notice three males loitering outside the building façade. He paid little heed to their presence given there were customers inside and he felt somewhat secure at the time. Later that evening however, around 8.30pm he started his night lock up procedure. Just prior to leaving, he put the internal alarm system on and then proceeded to exit the building. Whilst key locking the front door he was verbally challenged from across the street by three males some 40 meters away. They threatened him not to move as they raced across the road to accost him.

They forced him to unlock the door and then pushed him inside threatening him with a small revolver. Once inside they demanded he take them to the time delay safe located at the back of the premises. Unknown to the assailants, the time delay safe was programmed to remain locked until the following morning at 9am. The assailants demanded the victim gain entry to the safe, regardless of the victim’s attempts to explain the procedure. The assailants didn’t believe him and continued to threaten him to open the safe making him repeatedly re-enter his access code. After continued failed attempts they accused him of withholding and denying them access. It’s at this point that their intentions changed and they started physically assaulting him, hitting him about the head with their fists and the butt of the revolver, near knocking him unconscious.

Then the situation worsened, whilst on the floor after being beaten the assailants then proceeded to sexually assault him with the firearm. This attack was immediately followed up with a decision to abduct him. Now consider this! “What are their intentions; good or bad?” They grabbed him and forced him to walk down the street under the cover of darkness some 200meters to a location where their car was parked.

The driver entered the vehicle via the driver’s side door, whilst the two remaining assailants attempted to force the young male victim into the back seat from the footpath. It was at this point that he felt his life was in danger and he believed that if he got into the vehicle then he would meet his end. With that in mind he lashed out breaking free from the grip of the remaining two assailants. He then fled down the street onto a main road and managed to hail a passing vehicle, which stopped and rendered him assistance.

The assailants fled the scene and were never apprehended. It was two weeks after the attack that the young male victim finally told the Police the full story of his ordeal including the rape and abduction. The associated trauma of the event was so devastating for him and he felt such enormous shame and stress over what had happened that he couldn’t bring himself to tell anyone.

As I examined this case a terrible thought crossed my mind. Given the methodology of; ‘be compliant’, what would have happened if he had followed these instructions explicitly?   Operating on a belief that his only option was to comply and be submissive to the will of violent criminals. This unfortunately is not an isolated incident; there are many robbery incidents where assailants don’t just do what we expect them to do i.e., take the value and go. Robbery is a crime of violence that can combine with other serious crimes i.e., homicide, serious assault, grievous bodily harm, abduction, sexual assault and hostage taking. In July, 2014 in California, a gang of three armed robbers took three compliant female hostages as they left a bank robbery. In the course of their escape, they shot and injured two of the hostages, dumping them from their getaway car. The third hostage was killed in a final showdown with police.

It is robberies like these that force us to rethink what is the best and safest way for victims to respond when the situation they encounter doesn’t follow the linear path expected. After two years of design, and with the support of a major progressive client, a more holistic based approach was developed, ‘Robbery CTRM’. The aim of this new approach is to provide a criterion based and recognition primed guide to decision making to enable victims to appraise their specific robbery situation and determine what actions are best in their circumstance.

The ‘standard one size fits all approach’ needed reworking to better align with what the research evidences can go wrong. Compliance is still an integral part of the response however it needs to be considered in concert with contingency options and last resort measures to fully maximise victim safety in all arising circumstances. What was identified through thoroughly researching incidents, victim and criminal behaviour is that not all robberies are the same. Circumstance, environmental setting, other victim behaviour, criminal disposition and motivation and the affected state of robber’s varies greatly. The intention to carry out “just robbery” can and has changed during an attack. Situations don’t always go as planned. Contingencies arise that exceed the boundary of current compliance based training approaches and inadequacies in this area can compromise safety.

Consider the implications of the following circumstances should they arise.

  • You are attacked in a setting in which your whereabouts/situation is unknown to others.
  • The robber is not satisfied with what they have received and despite compliant responses, demands more, with violence escalating rapidly or unpredictably.
  • You are compliant, giving them what they want, but it doesn’t appear to be quelling their violent actions. The nature, level and purpose of their violence seems increasingly disconnected with the needs of robbery. You now develop grave concerns for your ongoing safety.
  • A customer or someone similar attacks a robber and a fight for survival ensues in your presence.
  • You are behind a secure area with considerable protection and there is no forseeable way a robber can harm you.
  • You work in an area that has high levels of protection i.e., ballistic screens that can be deployed, but by doing so, staff and customers on the other side of the screen will be left unprotected.
  • You are confronted in the street, or in a carpark, or in your car and the car doors are either locked or unlocked.
  • The robber attempts to abduct you or is occasioning considerable violence upon you or someone with you.

These situations require additional considerations around what’s best and safest in the changing circumstance. Consider the enormity of leaving victims to contemplate a range of options, and problem solve possible courses of action that they have never previously considered or discussed and to do so under actual traumatic conditions, with enormous stress and where their life is in the balance.

Robbery is a crime of violence and the very nature of violence is that it can change what should otherwise be a ‘predictable’ course of events, resulting in a sometimes dramatic change in the risk profile. With greater access to information sharing and increased levels of understanding concerning the full ambit of risks that permeate this threat environment, there is a critical need to review current methodology. It requires us to consider more holistic approaches to a broader range of robbery circumstances so we can better serve the safety needs of all robbery victims.