Dollar store robberies: The high cost of low prices

Dollar store robberies: The high cost of low prices

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - After months of sorting through public records, WMC Action News 5 Investigators discovered an extensive crime problem at area Family Dollar and Dollar General stores.

From January 1, 2015 to April 25, 2016, Memphis Police Department responded to 6,627 emergency calls at dollar stores. That means over a 16 month period, MPD went to dollar stores more than a dozen times a day.

Click here to see a map of the emergency calls.

In June, 2014, Ashley Oglesby was working behind the register at a Family Dollar on E. Shelby Drive.

"I think he said something like 'Don't move,' or something," Oglesby said. "He had the gun like by his side."

A surveillance camera captured images of the man forcing Oglesby's manager to empty one of the registers before pushing customers out of the way to get to Oglesby's register.

"He said something to them like 'Don't move or I'm going to hurt you,'" she said.

There are 110 Family Dollar and Dollar General stores in Memphis.

The more than 6,000 emergency calls made for those stores ranged from disturbances, thefts, and suspicious persons to fights, burglaries, and shots fired.

"It could have been worse because actually, I believe that at another Family Dollar, a woman was robbed, and she was actually shot," Oglesby said.

Records show that shootings at these dollar stores are not uncommon.

On July 27, 2015, a man was shot at a Family Dollar store on Millbranch Road.

On February 16, 2016, a robber went into a Family Dollar on Getwell Road, pointed a gun at the cashier, and according to the police report, told the cashier: "Open the register. And on my mommy, if you don't open the register, I'm going to shoot you."

When the cashier told the robber he could not open the register, the robber shot the clerk in both thighs and under his right armpit.

On January 8, 2016, at a Dollar General on Raleigh-Lagrange Road, a customer was inside when a group of men carrying guns entered the store.

The customer's mother asked WMC Action News 5 not to identify her, but she agreed to tell us what happened.

"Just when she turned to go to the door, three guys came in with guns. They told her to give them her purse, and she threw her purse," the woman said.

Surveillance video from the incident shows the robbers in the store with guns in their hands and bandannas over their faces. They fired multiple shots as customers ran to escape out the back door.

"I wasn't really scared, because I'm used to it," Barry Jeffries said. "But everyone else was."

Jeffries is an employee at the Dollar General store. He was stocking shelves in the back of the store that night.

He said the company trains employees on what to do during a robbery.

"Follow the rules and guidelines that we're told: give them the money and be prepared for whatever happens next," he said.

Police records show the Family Dollar location at 1427 N. Hollywood Street recorded the most incidents. Police received 310 calls to that store between January 1, 2015 and April 25, 2016. That averages out to a call almost every 1.5 days.

The Dollar General at 3129 Thomas Street saw the second most 911 calls with 289 in the same time period.

Of the 110 Family Dollar and Dollar General stores in the city, police responded to 18 locations more than 105 times.

Executive Director of Memphis Crime Stoppers, Buddy Chapman, tried to explain why the crime is so bad at these stores.

"I don't think it's as much the name of the establishment as it is the location of the establishment," Chapman said. "They're very vulnerable just by virtue of where they are."

Chapman said the stores attract crime because they sell inexpensive products and are primarily located in low-income, high-crime areas.

He also said security is expensive.

"I think what you're going to find is that they do have security," Chapman said. "And they do have as much security as they feel like they--maybe not that they need--but that they can afford."

Memphis City Councilwoman Patrice Robinson doesn't accept that.

While dollar stores--and the subsequent crime--are spread throughout the City of Memphis, the 38118 ZIP code is one of the busiest for dollar store incidents. That zip code happens to be part of Robinson's council district.

"Really, that's a very serious problem," she said.

Robinson said she believes that when MPD officers respond to Family Dollar and Dollar General stores an average of 14 times per day, it almost seems like the stores are relying on police to be their security.

"We can't afford to do that," Robinson said. "That is not our responsibility. I know they're trying to keep their prices low and that helps us in the community. However, they need to have their own security."

To be fair, Robinson also said Family Dollar and Dollar General provide hundreds of jobs in Memphis and are good for the local economy.

"But it's not the responsibility of the City of Memphis to make sure that their stores are safe every day," Robinson said. "They should have some skin in the game."

A spokesperson for Family Dollar sent the following written statement concerning store security:

"Please know that the safety and security of our customers and associates is our first priority. Our goal is to operate stores in neighborhoods and communities that are in close proximity to where our customers live and work. When violence in the communities and neighborhoods we serve occurs, it affects everyone - including our stores."

The spokesperson for Family Dollar went on to say security guards and other increased security measures are utilized on a case-by-case basis.

Current and former employees said "case-by-case" isn't good enough.

"There's a button next to the register, and we pushed it," Oglesby said. "But out of all days in the world, that button did not work."

"If you had a security guard, people would think twice before they even think--if you're going to rob them, 'Nah, they got security. He's armed. Look out.' Things like that." Jeffries said.

WMC Action News 5 Investigators asked Memphis Police Department for information on how many man-hours were tied up responding to incidents at Family Dollar and Dollar General stores. A spokesperson said that information was not available.

A spokesperson for Dollar General sent the following written statement about security at Memphis stores:

"Dollar General serves the Memphis community by providing its customers with everyday value and convenience through its 31 stores in the area. The safety of our employees and customers is a top priority, and we employ a number of safety and security procedures to prevent, deter, and, if necessary, respond to criminal activity in our stores. To protect the integrity of these measures, we do not comment on them specifically.

Copyright 2016 WMC Action News 5. All rights reserved.