Convenience Store Crimes Bill

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A bill was passed by the state legislature that bans cities and counties from adopting ordinances that require a retail business to comply with specific security requirements. Critics say it will hamper the ability of cities to fight crime around convenience stores. Arizona State University criminology professor Charles Katz will discuss the measure.

TED SIMONS: Coming up next on Arizona Horizon, hear about a new law that critics say will hamper the ability to fight crimes around convenience stores. We'll get our monthly update of news from south of the Gila in Southern Exposure. And we'll take a video tour of a local Andy Warhol exhibit. Those stories next on Arizona Horizon.

Video: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

TED SIMONS: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. A new Arizona consumer confidence index released by the Behavior Research Center shows no improvement in consumer sentiment since the start of the year, with only 25% of residents believing that business conditions will improve over the next two quarters. Maricopa County residents showed the highest degree of optimism, as opposed to Pima County where the index fell to its lowest level in three years. Overall, the survey shows that Arizona consumers remain less optimistic about the economy and an improved job market than the nation as a whole. A bill was signed into law last month that bans municipalities from adopting ordinances that require a retail business to comply with specific security requirements. Critics say it will hamper the ability of cities to fight crime around convenience stores. Here to tell us more is ASU criminology professor Charles Katz. We should note that a representative in support of the law initially agreed to appear on the program but then today decided to decline our offer. Thank you for being here. We do appreciate this. What does this new law do?

CHARLES KATZ: This law places fairly substantial restrictions on what cities or municipalities can do to institute ordinances to address crime within their communities at convenience stores.

TED SIMONS: And the reason for this law was because Mesa had put in an ordinance targeting certain convenience stores, correct?

CHARLES KATZ: Correct. There's a long history to this. It's a four-year history. Mesa has been working very diligently; the police department has been working very diligently with a number of convenience stores within the community as well as five other communities that have been working to address convenience store crime. Unfortunately, most of this is about one corporation. It's about Circle K…some of the issues that have come up around Circle K. They were the sponsors of the bill, they wrote the bill. As a result this conversation is really less about convenience stores and it's more about Circle K and the police and municipal ordinances.

TED SIMONS: So as far as the ordinance in Mesa, though, what did they do? What stores did they target and what did they tell those stories they needed to do?

CHARLES KATZ: Well, it really hits two ways. One is, if it's a new store, it's required to have certain specifications. It has to have video cameras, it has to have lighting on the outside and on the inside, it's not allowed to have windows covered - sometimes, you'll see beer posters on the windows and such. They created it for new stores because the police have to be able to see inside; citizens can see inside. But also with stores that have already been built, it instituted some required security measures if a location experienced 30 or more calls for service a year.

TED SIMONS: Yeah, it sounds like averaging 30 or more calls a year, correct?

CHARLES KATZ: Over a three-year period.

TED SIMONS: Okay. That ordinance was put into place when?

CHARLES KATZ: A few years ago…2-3 years ago.

TED SIMONS: And what kind of results since then?

CHARLES KATZ: Fantastic results - they've seen a dramatic decline in calls for service. Arrests are up 30%, and there are several reasons for that, some of which have to do with the lighting that they instituted. One of them is training of the employees. The Mesa police department instituted a training program in which convenience store workers or employees were required to receive training at a particular time. Also, they required safes to be put in, drop safes where money could not be robbed from the store.

TED SIMONS: So you've got a group of folks - really one group of folks - saying "I would imagine that all of this extra security, all of these requirements, cost money", correct?

CHARLES KATZ: Well, there is some financial cost to it. If a store does have 30 or more calls a year for three years in a row, it costs about $3,000 to institute these changes. While that may seem like quite a bit of money for some folks, the fact of the matter is with the corporations that are out there, with the mom and pop stores that are out there, for the most part, they can comply with it and address those issues.

TED SIMONS: As far as security requirements on retail, the idea of the bill was to make sure - the bill that became law - to make sure that those requirements are uniform and consistent around the state. Valid concern?

CHARLES KATZ: Sure, of course. You do want to make sure that there's some uniformity so that everybody is on the same page. But that's also what the Mesa ordinance was designed to do - to make sure people knew who the owner of the store was, to know who they had to contact if there was a problem, to make sure that there was uniformity that every store had an address on it so that if the police needed to respond to a store, they would know where that store was located as well as see the numbers on the store. So the Mesa ordinance was created so that you would have greater uniformity and that it would lead to greater police protection.

TED SIMONS: But what happens in Mesa may not be the same thing that happens in Glendale, may not be the same thing that happens in Peoria, correct?

CHARLES KATZ: Correct, but the interesting part is that they're all experiencing the same problems with the same corporation. You have five cities that have come together - Phoenix, Peoria, Glendale, Tempe, Mesa - and what they all found was that Circle K's represent a very small proportion of the stores; what I mean by a small percent is about 25% of the convenience stores. But they're responsible for 75% of the calls for service out there. And so what you really had was a few stores that were responsible for the majority of crime within convenience stores. The mom and pop stores experience very few calls for service, have very little crime, in part because mom and pop stores are very guarded against crime. They're very concerned about it; it can be their kid, their nephew or niece who's working, and they want to make sure that crime does not occur so they're very vigilant about the issue.

TED SIMONS: So they have the security requirements already in place?

CHARLES KATZ: Oftentimes, more so yes.

TED SIMONS: Okay, the idea again, though, that it's not fair to base these requirements on the size of the business, it's not fair to base these requirements on the type of business, and it's wrong to base requirements on the number of calls to police. Are these all valid concerns?

CHARLES KATZ: I think that folks need to keep them in mind and to consider these types of issues. But we also have the needs of the community and the needs of safety with the employees, safety of the citizens around those communities, and when we have a balance of safety of the citizenry and the employees, we need to also consider those types of issues.

TED SIMONS: We've had folks that are supporting this law and did not want to appear on the program after initially agreeing to do so basically saying your research in particular is flawed and has been pointed out publicly to be flawed. How do you respond to that?

CHARLES KATZ: Well I'm not sure it has been pointed out publicly. There's never been anything in print that we've been able to find. There's said to be one study. The fact is, the study, my colleague Mike White and myself, this work has been published in peer-reviewed journals, it's been reviewed, people have received awards as a consequence of this project. Agencies have received additional funding to institute like projects. This is based on evidence-based policing that is being used in hundreds of agencies. It's nothing special or unique in terms of what we did.

TED SIMONS: What are you hearing from police departments?

CHARLES KATZ: That they're really interested in seeing Circle K reform what it is that they're up to and be willing to work with the police in addressing their concerns.

TED SIMONS: And you think that this new law will hamper crime-fighting possibilities?

CHARLES KATZ: What it does is it takes a tool away. In this particular case the reason why that ordinance was put into place is because the Circle K Corporation refused to call back police departments in town. They refused to talk to them, they wouldn't show up to meetings, they wouldn't return phone calls, and as a result, it left the city with no other option other than to institute an ordinance. So it's really their last effort to try to get -- to increase safety in certain communities.

TED SIMONS: Alright, it's good to have you on the program. Thank you so much for joining us.

CHARLES KATZ: Thank you.

Video: The Colorado River has carved over 600 miles of canyons in southern Utah and northern Arizona. As sublime as these chasms are, to travelers they pose a seemingly insurmountable problem. Just how do you get to the other side? A highway marker on US 89A commemorates a successful effort that for nearly 60 years did just that: Lee's Ferry. Mormon pioneer John D. Lee came here in 1871. He established a ferry service across the Colorado River at the only natural point for 600 miles. Lee, seen here seated on his coffin, was executed in 1877 for his role in the Mountain Meadows Massacre when 120 immigrants heading to California were murdered in Utah. The ferry operated for 52 more years, transporting thousands of hikers, horses, wagons, and even small automobiles across the river. Only the railroad, and finally, in 1929, the Navajo Bridge made Lee's Ferry obsolete. Today, the original Navajo Bridge is reserved for pedestrians while the new Navajo Bridge, built beside it in 1995, caters to cars and trucks. While the ferry itself is long gone, the name remains. Lee's Ferry is now the terminus for thousands of awe-struck sightseers rafting on the mighty Colorado River.

Charles Katz:Arizona State University Criminology Professor

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