By Andrew Kelly and Zak Vdolek
Most cannabis-industry business owners have become acquainted with security requirements, namely in the fields of surveillance and alarm systems. However this is only a small aspect of security. The American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS) International has long used a “4D” layered approach to security: Deter, deny, detect and delay.
Deterrence is a good first step to dissuade would-be thieves and assailants who pick a visibly less-defended target. Use of security system signage and bright lighting are good ways to make a location unappealing to criminals, due to the increased likelihood of interruption and apprehension. Denial is a secondary layer that physically bars entry, often via industrial locks, barred windows and anti-ram bollards. Due to a majority of convenience crimes, most criminals will not possess the tools or willpower to defeat this layer of security. Detection is the third layer for the determined criminal, triggering audible alarms, notifying police or security, and capturing their actions on camera. Only the most prepared criminals will venture this far, either due to ineffective outer security layers or high-value goods worth the risk of detection. Delay is the final conventional layer that gives responders time to arrive on scene. This includes shatterproof displays, security doors and safes. Forcible entry into these hardened areas typically takes a great deal of time and effort, which minimizes theft of valuables while maximizing time for police or security to intervene.
Often not discussed is the great deal of property damage determined criminals will inflict in the course of their forced entry into a building. Common damages are smashed doors, cameras, windows and cut walls or ceilings. Hasty use of pry-bars and other tools can render doorframes bent and non-functional, strip locks and leave display cases cracked. While product and cash remain untouched, criminals can cause thousands of dollars in damage, not including the cost of business downtime during investigations and reconstruction. At best, a determined criminal can cause a great deal of damage. If given enough time, brute force and decent tools, many secure systems and equipment can be breached — especially if criminals are particularly skilled or operating in isolated areas.
The proven solution to prevent these losses has been the use of a first and final “defensive” security layer. Use of security personnel has been by far one of the best and most effective security tools business owners can have. While security systems are essential and provide crucial evidence in court, they cannot deter crime, anticipate crimes, adapt to changing threats, prevent damage and injury, or testify in court against assailants, while security personnel can. Security personnel can anticipate criminal acts, deescalate altercations, detain and arrest aggressors, and take defensive action in life-critical situations where assailants mean to do grievous bodily harm; they are your first and last line of defense.
Site security personnel
To adequately protect a cannabis operation with security personnel, a number of factors need to be considered. What is the police’s best response time? Assuming the worst-case scenario, half of all active-shooter incidents in schools begins and concludes within 15 minutes, as reported by a joint Department of Education and Secret Service study. If police cannot guarantee arrival in less than five minutes, you should strongly consider defensive measures. Is your facility an outdoor or indoor operation? If you can secure your facility indoors it makes forced entry and a criminal’s getaway that much harder. If your facility is outside, it is that much easier for criminals to attempt a robbery.
Where is the area located? Unfortunately, due to problematic zoning laws, most high-risk producers/processors are either in higher-crime industrial parks or remote rural locations, both ideal locations for criminal targeting.
If your answers to the above questions are less than favorable, you should strongly consider contracting a security company with qualified guards. Contracted guards are not affected by your business operations and will never conceal internal thefts or security vulnerabilities to cover coworker mistakes or security plan inadequacies. Also. in the face of prohibitions on firearm use by cannabis business owners and their employees, trained and qualified contractors with intimate knowledge of security practices and the law can lawfully use them to defend the lives of you and your employees. Their expertise will also aid in developing security and emergency response plans to allocate the right quantity and type of security personnel throughout seasonal changes in risk, as each site and shift is unique.
While it is ideal to use around-the-clock security to ensure the safety and security of your business, customers, and employees, there are alternatives for cash-strapped businesses in start-up mode.
The first is a scaled-down security detail. The most preferable of options, good security firms will provide small but adequate security details for your facility during your first year or two, and can expand your security detail as you grow and your needs change. Some may attempt to sell you on the “lone guard” as an inexpensive alternative; this is a grave mistake and excessively hazardous. Should a criminal wish to compromise a facility’s security, all they must do is incapacitate the lone guard and they gain unfettered access to the complex. A minimum two-man team must be used so one is able to call for backup.
The second is an alarm response and patrol service. While response times can become an issue due to the dispersion of properties, nearby patrols can respond more quickly and ably to your site using inside knowledge of its staff, layout and security plan. At all other times, randomized patrols can check up on the site’s security and your employees’ wellbeing, while ensuring criminals are unable to find a “window of vulnerability.”
Lastly, during high-risk times such as harvest time, mass packaging and when receiving large shipments, temporary full-size security details should be used to ensure uninterrupted operations when you have the most to lose. This can involve screening all persons and vehicles entering/leaving the property for unauthorized items and stolen property, searching for hostile surveillance or security probing, to placing employees’ minds at ease so they are able to focus on their job and perform their best.
Transportation security personnel
Transportation of product is currently one of the more challenging security concerns, particularly for I-502 operations. With current product shortages, great demand has been placed on producers to grow and transport large quantities of product, valued easily in the six-figure range. Compounding this problem, the current state model only allows licensees and their immediate employees to transport product, disallowing any use of third-party transportation. This places a great deal of responsibility and risk on licensees and their employees normally borne by a security company for any other industry. Washington State Liquor Control Board rules also require all product be secured in a locked compartment or safe that is affixed to the vehicle’s body or frame and non-stop, Point-A to Point-B shipments.
Some licensees have considered purchasing armored vehicles for transporting shipments; however they can be conspicuous to criminals, prohibitively expensive to acquire and maintain, require specialty training for drivers, and may require commercial driver’s licenses and limited hours of operation if over a designated weight.
Some security companies have erroneously advertised product shipment services with armored vehicles, however this is currently illegal under state law and are likely uninsured. There is a global insurance underwriter standard that all armored cars transporting liabilities (valuables) must make use of armed guards to offset the risk of robbery. Additionally, no known insurance exists which offers product coverage during third-party transport beyond policies available only to producers. If a security company offers armored car services while following security industry standards, they would be in direct violation of Cole Memo 2.0, effectively distributing a controlled substance while armed.
While licensee and third-party transport are currently untenable, there are alternatives available to I-502 businesses. In lieu of purchasing armored or modified vehicles, licensees may rent custom-modified vehicles from I-502 transportation businesses. This offers a cost-effective option of ownership incurring overhead only when needed, with ready-to-use vehicles purpose-built to Liquor Control Board requirements. For protection of shipments, separate security chase vehicles provided by security companies may be used to escort shipments, able to intervene and defend a licensee’s employees should a hijacking or robbery attempt be made. Chase vehicles can be made disposable, either to shield a transport vehicle and team from hostile attack, create a route of escape from an attack, or to halt an attack while the transport team seeks safety.
While these solutions are far from perfect, they offer an effective stop-gap until third-party transport becomes a reality. Currently, various stakeholders in the I-502 industry are working with policymakers to pass new legislation in creation of a third-party distribution system. What form and shape it will take remains to be seen, but it is reasonably safe to predict such a piece of legislation will be passed during Washington State’s 2015 legislative session. While this news is comforting, caution must be taken, as any newly-created state system takes time to fully implement, requiring I-502 business to rely on existing options.
Armored car services
Banking has been a longstanding issue for cannabis businesses, especially when paying suppliers or taxes. Until recently, walking around with a duffle bag of cash was the only option and proved to be highly dangerous, for sake of one’s personal safety and the financial security of their business. With the loosening of restrictions under a state system, new options such as armored car cash-in-transit services are now available. Using these services to make cash payments is far safer, often removing the need for a business owner or employee to be present, while allowing for the use of armed guards.
Those I-502 businesses lucky enough to secure a bank account will find most banks and credit unions require I-502 businesses to use an armored car carrier for deposit of their currency. This is due in part to internal risk-reduction policies and underwriter requirements implemented to mitigate the possibility of robbery when deposits are being made. Banks and credit unions may dictate use of a preferred carrier or allow your choice of carriers, provided the financial institution vets them.
When using an armored car carrier, there are multiple nuances an I-502 business owner should be aware of. Namely, due to global underwriter standards, all armored car guards must be armed at all times, whether or not they are transporting liabilities, and whether or not they are on the ground or in the vehicle.
This complicates the hand-off currency rule, where guards require a secure area out of sight to take receipt of the currency and then transfer it to the armored vehicle. These pickups and drop-offs also need to be randomized at varying days and times to prevent robbery attempts.
Each armored car’s security team also needs to be proportional in size with training and defenses to the quantity of currency being transported and the level of security that the secure transaction area offers. Each of these factors must be considered and properly addressed by a quality armor car company, from policy, to plan and, through practice.
Those who choose not to hire armored car carriers should consult a security company to ensure they take every precaution possible to minimize danger.
These include but are not limited to: varying routes, vehicles, times and days, as well as calling ahead to banks and Department of Revenue branches to arrange a secure time and location for payments. While this is a viable alternative, it is strongly recommended that all your cash transactions be conducted either via a banking system or armored car carrier, especially for cash transactions of $50,000 or more. These should be handled by an armored car carrier, due to the high risk of robbery and loss.
Andrew Kelly and Zak Vdolek are co-founders of SCAR, a private security company providing service to the cannabis industry in Washington.