Convenience Stores Can Be Safe Havens
By Bob Chrismas
Sarah grabbed the handle and hastily threw the car door open. She jumped out of the driver’s side at 20 miles per hour as the male driver pulled up to a stoplight. Rolling on the ground, her shoulder hit the concrete curb bringing her to a violent stop. Sarah jumped up and ran along the sidewalk, holding her shoulder, trying to hide in the shadows, but she had to keep moving. He was after her, and she knew from the past he would not give up. Now, she knew she was in for a beating, or worse, when he catches her but was scared enough to risk her life trying to get away.
It was just past dusk, and the streetlights were just flickering and coming on. There were too many buildings and obstacles to get off the sidewalk and out of sight. Sarah was 25 years old, five feet tall, slender, blonde and pretty. The beauty of her face was obscured by her terrified contortions and bruised left eye that was several days old. Running down the sidewalk, she heard the black Mercedes she had jumped out of screech to a halt right behind her. A man jumped out and slammed the door as he walked quickly towards her. He yelled, “hang on, you bitch, what do you think you’re doing?” He was 35 years old with a dark complexion and short hair. Well-groomed and hard-looking, with leathery skin, wearing jeans and a black leather jacket with a white t-shirt underneath. The man looked hard and angry.
Sarah could barely make her feet work. She was so terrified, she stumbled and tripped and skinned her knees on the hard and unforgiving cement. Nevertheless she got up and kept running away from the man. She frantically pulled on many door handles and couldn’t get in anywhere. It was an industrial district, and all the businesses were closed. The man kept walking, knowing he would catch up eventually. “I’m done this time. He’s gonna kill me,” she thought. Stepping out into the street, Sarah waived at several passing cars, but they all drove around her. It was no surprise to her, but she had to try. People could see she was in trouble, but who wants to confront a tough-looking guy they could see walking towards her. It is too easy to justify driving by, by simply thinking it is just a couple having an argument.
Then a warm glow from the convenience store lights suddenly appeared across the street. It stood there like a beacon, she thought. “There is a place. It’s open for sure. I’m gonna go for it.” She ran straight across several lanes of traffic, not even looking for cars. Grabbing the door, she thought, “I might die here in this store, but I’m going all in, maybe I can get safe here.” There was a lone clerk behind the counter. “Please, mister,” she could barely get the words out. “There’s a man after me. I need the police.”
Steve was a young university student who works there on evenings and weekends. He saw this young woman in distress and listened to her, processing what she said, “a man is after me.” He thought it through quickly and said, “OK, lady, don’t worry.” Grabbing his cell phone, he dialled 911 as he walked briskly to the front door and locked it. “911, what is your emergency?” “Hello, my name is Steve Calder, and I am the night clerk at the store at 123 Home Street. A lady is here being chased by a man.” The man walked up and pulled on the door. It was locked. He pounded on it, and Steve knew then that he was in a tight spot, but he also knew this young woman was in trouble.
The 911 operator asked, “what is happening?” “This guy is after a lady here, and I’ve locked him out.” “OK good, we have units on the way. Stay on the line, and I’ve got some questions for you.” Steve held his phone up, showing the man outside that he was on the phone with the police. The man stared ominously at Steve like he would have punched him in the face if he had gotten in. He looked at Sarah and pointed at her as if to say, “you’re done when I get you.” Then he walked away towards where he had left his car.
Seeing the man walk away, Sarah felt a rush of warmth wash over her. She suddenly felt relaxed, almost sleepy, as she had not slept in 24 hours. The crimson and blue strobe of the police car lights pulling onto the parking lot usually would make her nervous. Today, they gave her a sense of safety she had not had in a long time. Now they were a lighthouse light that would guide her through the rocks in the angry storm of her life. Now it was different because she had decided to go all-in and seek some help. She would be safe.
Was this man a human trafficker trying to keep one of his prisoners from escaping or was he an abusive husband or boyfriend, trying to keep control? It doesn’t matter. Steve, the clerk, acted heroically. He took action and ultimately resolved the threat. Imagine if Steve had kept his head down and didn’t observe or react to what was going on. Even worse, what if he had said, “Sorry, we don’t have a public phone. You can use the one outside.” Steve’s quick thinking prevented the situation from escalating and quite likely saved this young lady from being assaulted or worse.
Quite often, a convenience store is a place that people will go to in a crunch. They are, by definition, available when other places are not. They are businesses and clearly do not have a duty to invest resources and take responsibility for public safety. However, they can be good citizens by thinking about being a safe harbour in a storm.
Employees can be trained to be vigilant and know when to call the police. They can have training in situational awareness and how to react in a crisis. Policies, training, and a mechanism for locking the door when they or customers might be in danger could save lives. As with any form of potential workplace-related problems, a little forethought could prevent a lot of anguish.
Bob Chrismas, Ph.D., is an author, scholar, consultant, passionate speaker and social justice advocate police professional with internationally recognized expertise in community engagement and crime prevention. An advocate for social reform, he has written and speaks extensively on innovative trends in policing, community partnership and governance. Visit Bob at BChrismas.com.