Small businesses in Grand Cayman are spending significant sums on security measures to protect their staff and customers from the growing threat of armed robberies.
The cash stolen by gun-toting criminals in recent holdups has often been as little as a few hundred dollars. Those figures are dwarfed by the sums companies are spending on security.
Tortuga Rum Company now invests $125,000 annually in security guards and has invested thousands more in other crime-prevention tactics, including using armored car services for cash pick-ups at its stores. Owner Robert Hamaty said the company had made the investment for the safety and peace of mind of its staff.
Cayman Distributors Group invested $42,000 in new security measures following a robbery at Blackbeard’s liquor store in Grand Harbour in December last year – almost 10 times the amount that was stolen in the raid.
Prentice Panton, owner of Liquor4Less and Food4Less and the victim of seven armed robberies since 2009, said he spent similar amounts annually on private security.
He has also invested in reinforced glass for his stores and new security cameras and alarm systems.
He said the largest amount stolen in any one raid was $900 because of policies to ensure limited amounts of cash are kept in the till at any one time.
But the cost of security in that time has run to hundreds of thousands of dollars. He currently pays around $43,000 every year for security guards. It used to be higher but he cut back, he said, because the stores continued to get robbed.
“The country as a whole spends millions of dollars on security guards and they are useful for preventing shoplifting and burglary, but what can they really do if there is an armed robbery?” he said.
Restaurants, bars, even jerk stands, have also been targeted in recent raids.
Shots were fired in a robbery at the Di Kit-Chin jerk stand in Prospect on Friday night. Anthony Chin, whose family own the restaurant, said the company, a relatively new business, was not yet in a position to shell out thousands on security guards. He is skeptical, too, about what a guard could do to stop determined robbers with weapons.
“We are a new business, we have to pay the bills, we have to pay the staff. It is hard to keep your head above water, without this. It is a setback,” Mr. Chin said.
A few hundred yards up the road, behind the counter of McRuss grocery store in Prospect, Margaret McLaughlin is trying not to let the situation trouble her too much.
Ms. McLaughlin, who has had a gun pointed at her face in a previous armed robbery, says she has lost count of how many times the store has been targeted by criminals.
“I don’t think about it too much, I can’t be scared and close early,” she said.
“If you keep things like that in your head all the time, it will give you high blood pressure.”
McRuss has invested in a security guard and new cameras and has not been targeted now in over a year, she said.
“What can we do? We have to spend money to make money,” she said.
Less than a mile away, at the busy Grand Harbour shopping center, a much bigger business is facing similar issues.
On Dec. 17 last year, three men, one carrying a spray-painted gold colored shotgun, walked into the store and made off with some $5,000 in cash.
The trio and their getaway driver were quickly apprehended and are now facing lengthy sentences. But the impact of the robbery is still being felt.
Kathy Marshall, security and loss prevention manager for the Dart group, which owns Cayman Distributors, described in a victim impact statement, read during a sentencing hearing for the robbers last week, how the company had invested in new cameras, security guards and counseling for staff.
Speaking to the Cayman Compass Wednesday, she said the crime had left staff shaken and forced a rethink of security measures across Dart’s retail companies.
“The amount we spent on security guards around that time far outweighed the amount that was stolen,” she said.
“What is most important is the impact the robbery had on the staff and the community as a whole. We want to make sure our staff feel safe when they come to work and that the customers feel safe when they come into the store.”
Ms. Marshall, a former detective with the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, said there had been a marked increase in robberies over the past five or six years. She said she could not understand the mentality of criminals who terrified shop assistants and customers and risked lengthy prison sentences for a few hundred dollars.
“To me, it shouldn’t matter if you take $1 million or $1, it doesn’t make a difference to the person with a gun pointed in their face,” she said.
She has little sympathy for those who make excuses about tough backgrounds or economic troubles.
Ms. Marshall said many of Cayman Distributors’ staff came from similar backgrounds to the robbers.
“We have staff from the same neighborhoods. They have got bills to pay too and they choose to go to work and earn a living instead of just taking it from someone.”
Wil Pineau, chief executive officer of the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce, said security guards and cameras were becoming a standard cost of doing business for retail operations. He said the impact was passed on through to the community in higher prices.