Armed robberies of groceries and kiosks take place on a nearly weekly basis in Helsinki. Both shopkeepers and employees’ unions are looking for ways to put the brakes on this trend.
When Minna Vehma, a cashier at a Siwa food outlet shop, refused to sell beer to a female customer who seemed intoxicated, she became the target of a flood of abusive language and threats. This was in a neighbourhood shop, well before mid-day.
Vehma has been through worse. The shop has been robbed three times while she’s been on her shift.
“I’ve been threatened with a gun, that was the scariest. After something like that, I’ve been frightened, but it passes,” Minna says. The help she got from vocational healthcare services allowed her to deal with the fear.
Around 50 robberies a year
Disturbances and robberies are near-daily occurrences at groceries and kiosks. The most common targets are the smaller convenience outlets of chains such as Siwa, Alepa, K-kauppa and the R-kiosks. They take place around the clock.
“It’s sure that many employees are wondering at this very moment when it will happen to them. It causes quite a side effect, just the existence of that fear,” points out Erika KÃ¤hÃ¤rÃ¤ of the service sector employees’ union PAM.
A joint working groups set up by PAM and the Federation of Finnish Commerce is now looking at ways to improve the safety of retail workers.
By the end of November 2009, Helsinki police had registered 51 reports of robberies or attempted robberies at shops and kiosks. This year, that figure is down by about a quarter.
Guns, knives and pepper gs have all been used by robbers.
“We actively try to discourage robberies. We are trying to reduce the sums they can get away with and increase the chances that they will get caught,” says Harri Uusitalo, the chief of security for Suomen LÃ¤hikauppa, a company that owns several retail grocery chains.
Retailers want to cut down on the amount of cash kept on hand. Customers are increasingly being encouraged to use debit cards and many cash boxes are fitted with time delay mechanisms.
One cashier can be too risky
Many smaller shops have only a single employee working late in the evening. Contracting security company services and increasing evening staff are two measures many owners are now looking at.
Harri Uusitalo of Suomen LÃ¤hikauppa admits that increasing evening staff is an extra expense, but sometimes the best solution.
“We react to the security situation in each individual shop. We may add extra employees or implement various solutions including security personnel,” says Uusitalo.
“Money cannot be the determining factor when the safety of human beings is at stake,” sums up Erika KÃ¤hÃ¤rÃ¤ of the service sector employees’ union PAM.