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Security guards at theft-plagued Walgreens ‘not there to protect product’

Security guards at a theft-plagued pharmacy chain have been instructed not to confront the shoplifters when they walk out without paying, according to a Walgreens executive.

Walgreens, which operates 240 stores in the Big Apple, including Duane Reade, has been riddled by robberies to the point where the stores have had to put items like toothpaste behind lock and key.

The chain hired unarmed guards and off-duty cops — but they haven’t been much of a deterrent.

“[Security guards] are not there to protect the product,” said Joseph Stein, director of asset protection solutions for Walgreen, during the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce “Anti-Crime Summit” on Thursday.

“They are there to de-escalate [a situation] and to protect the customer and the employees,” he added.

Retailers are forced to lock up popular items to combat rampant shoplifting in their stores.
UCG/Universal Images Group via G

Walgreens hires security guards from Allied Universal, Stein said, adding that the chain also hires off-duty police officers, “who have different powers” than the unarmed guards.

“When you have five [thieves] in your store on a mission, it’s five on one. And that’s not the responsible thing to do [to try to stop them],” Stein said.

A Walgreens spokesman said in a statement, “The safety of our patients, customers and team members is our top priority.  Allied Security, and any unarmed security professionals we employ are meant to serve as a deterrent.”

Empty shelves after Valentines Day holiday merchandise is removed, Walgreens, Queens, New York.
The chain hired unarmed guards and off-duty cops.
UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

That may be news to shoppers who are surprised when they see thieves brazenly walk out the door and security guards who seemingly do nothing to stop them.

“Lately, it seems to be a trend that, when a theft occurs in a store, security guards in the store are just supposed to watch it happen and wait for the cops to come (long after the thieves have left). I keep seeing these videos of someone unarmed just walking into an Apple store or Walmart or whatever, pocketing some phones, and just walking out without being stopped,” wrote a Reddit user last month, sparking 179 responses.

Stein did shed light on another vexing issue for both shoppers and retailers, who are besieged by rampant crime in their stores.

Toothpaste locked up in a Walgreen store.
If these items weren’t locked up, there wouldn’t be any product for shoppers to purchase, a Walgreens executive said.
Getty Images

If drug store chains didn’t lock up toothpaste, razor blades and other popular items, there wouldn’t be anything left on the shelves for shoppers to buy, Stein said.

Shoppers say they are annoyed about the hassle of finding a store clerk to unlock these items, but as retail crime surges across the country and stores are hit by shoplifters daily, the locks are one of the most effective ways to keep merchandise on store shelves for legitimate customers, retailers say.

“The locks work,” Stein said. “When you see toothpaste locked up, no one wants that, but if we don’t do that the product won’t be there to buy. And, if you don’t lock it up, [the thieves] know they can come back.”

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