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The inner city fast food restaurant had been closed for about 30 minutes. The closing manager and her crew were busy with the usual cleaning operation; the same routine nightly. The peaceful late night was suddenly pierced by the sound of gun fire and shattered glass. Employees ducked for cover as bullets struck the front counter and kitchen equipment. Glass from the lobby windows flew everywhere. The closing manager screamed and crumpled to floor, struck in the lower leg from a ricocheting bullet. Screeching tires were heard from a vehicle exiting the driveway just outside the lobby. By accounts of those present, the gunfire lasted perhaps 5 to 10 seconds. The closing manager and employees described the incident as horror and absolute chaos. All said they feared for their lives that were forever changed in those short seconds. The manager was transported to the hospital and successfully treated.

Clean-up - Company loss prevention representatives responded to the scene. The windows were quickly replaced and the restaurant was thoroughly cleaned. An outside company cleaned up the blood and sanitized the area. Through the assistance of a company Human Resource Manager, employees were offered counseling through the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). The restaurant was reopened later in the morning.

Color, color, and more color - The employees and the owner of the franchise were interviewed in the dining area. During the interviews the loss prevention representatives noticed that many customers milling about the restaurant were wearing hats, shoes, bandanas, t-shirts with lots of color. The SAME color! Hand signals were flashed by several customers to the young male employee mopping the floor and to another straightening the tables and chairs. When the owner of the franchised restaurant was asked about it, he stated that he was aware of youth groups in the neighborhood. Youth groups in the neighborhood!?! It was obvious that these guys were gangbangers. Graffiti was observed on a wooden fence on the property. The Gang Suppression Unit of the local police department was contacted and an officer identified the markings as gang related. He also shared information of drug activity through the restaurant's drive-thru was under investigation. A cooperative investigation was launched.

First impressions - The first impression of the investigators and the police was that the drive-by shooting could be gang related. It couldn't be determined if the owner was terribly naïve, or refused to acknowledge the presence of gangs in the neighborhood and on his staff. Further investigation showed large cash losses as well as excessive food shortages were regularly occurring in the restaurant. Monthly comp sales showed a steady decline. Pre-employment background checks had not been completed on most employees. Many were found to have felony criminal convictions. A review of employment applications indicated they were falsified on the felony conviction question. Criminal enterprises involving theft and drug distribution within the restaurant were unraveled.

The real story - The shooting incident seemed more and more related to the gang activity inside the restaurant - until it wasn't. As the interviews and investigation took its course, interesting information came to light. A young female employee that was on the closing crew that evening had called a friend for a ride home. That male friend waited for her outside in his car. A second individual, a high school classmate of the young lady, wandered by and saw the driver waiting in his car. The classmate had intentions of developing a romantic relationship with the female employee. He recognized the driver and became enraged with jealousy. He ran to his home a few doors away and returned with a 9-millimeter handgun. He began firing his weapon, spraying bullets at the vehicle. The driver ducked down in the seat and floored the engine to get away. The bullets missed their mark and hit the glass windows of the restaurant with one of them striking the closing manager. The police soon tracked down the gunman and corroborated the story. He was charged with criminal mischief, firing a weapon into an occupied building – and attempted murder.

The aftermath - The first impression of a gang-related drive-by shooting turned out to be a misperception. It was simply an immature violent act of a lovelorn juvenile, with plenty of unintended consequences. But the investigation of gang-related activity within the restaurant continued with interviews of the employees and cooperation with the local police. Several employees were arrested for theft and others for selling drugs through the drive-thru window. Additional employees were terminated for falsifying their employment application. Gang related influences were eliminated from the restaurant. The owner of the franchise sold the restaurant back to the corporation. The new management team reinstated the neglected controls and the sales and profitability soon returned.

Although the shooting incident was not related to gangs, it brought attention to the serious related issues within the restaurant. Poor controls, inattention to detail and mismanagement lead to the infiltration of gang influences. The ousting of those influences initially lead to an increase of vandalism and graffiti. They were reported to the gang suppression unit and were quickly stopped.

Are there gangs in your neighborhood?

The following information will help to recognize gang activity within your business and/or community. If you recognize several "signs," contact your local police department and work closely with the gang suppression unit.

Gang Presence Checklist

  • Is graffiti showing up in your neighborhood or school?
  • Has any graffiti been crossed out by other graffiti?
  • Do students or juveniles in the neighborhood flash hand signals to each other?
  • Are drugs available in schools or in the neighborhood?
  • Has there been a significant increase in physical confrontations or "staredowns"?
  • Are weapons increasingly present in the neighborhood?
  • Do students have use of phones or pagers during school?
  • Have there been "drive by" shows or displays of weapons?
  • Have there been "drive by" shootings in the neighborhood or near the school?
  • Has the truancy rate noticeably increased?
  •  Have the number of number of racial incidents increased in the neighborhood or school?
  • Does the community have a history of gang presence or activity?
  • Is there an increasing presence of "informal" social groups with unusual names such as "SUR" or "Eastside"?
  • Have your children come home with bruises and they won't disclose the source?

Gang graffiti

If you see graffiti in your school or neighborhood – DO NOT IGNORE IT! Graffiti is how gangs make their presence known in order to stake a claim of a specific area of the neighborhood. It's also used to challenge rival gangs over "territory" and issue threats to their rivals. Report any graffiti to your local police. Take a photograph of it, give it to the police and remove the graffiti as soon as possible.

To learn more about gangs and their activity, click here.

For more information on security, safety, loss and crime prevention for restaurants, visit www.LossBusters.com. For daily tips on restaurant loss prevention, follow on Twitter @LossBusters

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D. B. "Libby" Libhart
D.B. “Libby” Libhart has more than 30 years of experience in the loss prevention industry. He has provided security and safety leadership in retail settings such as department stores, drug stores and quick-service restaurants. Before launching his own company, LossBusters, Libby served as the Senior Director of U.S. Security and Safety for McDonald’s Corp. He entered the QSR industry with Taco Bell and subsequently YUM Brands.
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