Crime Statistics

Who are they and what are they thinking? Offenders and pharmacy robbery and burglary.

Tara O’Connor Shelley, Ph.D., Center for the Study of Crime and Justice (CSCJ), Department of Sociology,

Colorado State University

Pharmacists Mutual has been tracking pharmacy crime statistics for over 5 years in order to develop effective measures to address a problem that has been growing in the United States. We asked Dr. Tara Shelley to share some findings from her groundbreaking research on pharmacy crime from the offenders perspective. The multi-year study conducted at 32 prisons looked at the diversion of controlled prescription drugs by burglary or robbery. Her research confirms many of the results we’ve discovered, and provides the pharmacist with information they can use when considering protective measures.

The Offender””Pharmacy robbers and burglars are most often white (90%), male (96%) and older than the typical offender (i.e., mid-20s to mid-40s, average 34). The majority has a high school education (40%) and were employed (61%) at the time of the crime. 78% of offenders had a prior criminal history of which 38% involved a pharmaceutical nexus.

How they View Pharmacies””Offenders viewed pharmacies as banks. Given a limited supply and a high street value for CPDs, the rewards that one received from the crime outweighed perceived risks. As one offender put it, “”¦to be honest with you pharmacies are better than banks. They are. They’re better than banks. It’s the only place of business in today’s society that you can go in and steal the product that it offers and get more than what it’s worth.”

The Pharmacies they Target””42% of the offenders targeted a locally owned or “ma and pop” store. The majority (72%) reported they had visited the targeted pharmacy before the crime and most did so while filling a prescription.

This is consistent with other research indicating that criminals will visit a pharmacy multiple times before a robbery. For the pharmacist – watch for suspicious behavior, people avoiding eye contact, and folks who have an unusual interest in the cameras, motion detectors and layout behind the counter.- PMC

When asked how they viewed locally owned pharmacies, 62% of offenders reported that a locally owned pharmacy “was an encouraging target”””given their perceived lack of security. Though security at “Ma/Pop stores” was viewed as “lax” by most offenders there was still a perception among some (i.e., 22%) that the owners of “Ma/Pop” pharmacies are armed, dangerous, and unpredictable: “I wouldn’t hit none of the mom and pops”¦there’s a possibility that they’d have a gun. I didn’t have a gun, and I definitely didn’t want to get shot.” Conversely more experienced offenders reported that locally owned pharmacies “do not have enough product” to make it worth their while and if staff were to resist, it would actually escalate the crime “”¦ the way you look at staff is, if they’re stupid, you’re just gonna shoot ”˜em.”

Several messages here. When criminals visit the pharmacy, they are looking for vulnerabilities. Encountering a “hardened target” with obvious security and alert staff can discourage the criminal. While criminals may fear a gun, be aware of the risks as well as the ability to prevent robberies. – PMC

Security & Deterrence””When asked about alarm systems, offenders were divided regarding their deterrence. Robbers indicated that alarm systems were irrelevant if they can get a quick getaway while alarms are routine procedure for the burglars. Most offenders (97%) viewed the use of bullet-resistant barriers as an effective deterrent. An overwhelming majority of offenders (76%) indicated time-delay safes were an effective deterrent; however, most agreed that they could pose substantial safety risks to staff and customers if an offender was “dope sick” and/or upset. Bottle tracking technology was also an effective deterrent. As one offender explains, “If they could design some kind of sensor on the pharmaceutical bottles, that would be like On-Star in the car. If they could put it on the bottles, and only the pharmacist could remove those from the bottles, and once they left that store, that sensor would go off, that would discourage just about everybody, once they knew about that. I don’t see where that would be much of a problem doin’ it with all the technology they’ve got out there now.”

Pharmacists Mutual provides discount opportunities for member purchases of verified alarm systems designed to encourage quick police response and tracking devices to apprehend criminals. For additional information, contact us at – PMC

Training & Education””The majority of offenders reported that pharmacy staff members were uninformed and untrained to handle robbery and burglary for CPDs. Offenders reported that staff were often distracted and unaware of their surroundings, did not take offenders seriously, and some attempted to confront, chase, or even fight off offenders. While some were skeptical about crime prevention training for pharmacists most pointed out that pharmacy staff are in clear need of it: “It’s a shame that a pharmacist would have to attend classes or do things to prevent crime from happening or even to turn him from wantin’ to even enter that profession. It’s a twisted situation.”

One of the things we’ve learned over the years is that most pharmacies do not provide training for employees in burglary and robbery. Training on what to do in a situation where your are face to face with an armed robber is critical and available at no cost throught RxPatrol and at – PMC

Interested in reading the full report? Go to RxPATROL, Training Videos and select the report (

Dr. Tara O’Connor Shelley is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at Colorado State University and serves as Co-Director of the Center for the Study of Crime and Justice. She received her PhD in Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida State University and her MS in Justice, Law and Society from the American University. Prior to joining academia, Professor Shelley worked for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), and the Justice Research and Statistics Association (JRSA). She has recently published in Critical Criminology, Social Psychology Quarterly, Deviant Behavior, and Violence and Victims. She is also the co-editor of Problem Oriented Policing: Crime-Specific Problems, Critical Issues and Making POP Work.