Pharmacy robberies increase in Central Florida

June 20, 2008
Twenty-four hour drugstores refuse to cut back on late-night services

While 24-hour pharmacies provide shoppers the convenience of longer hours and shorter lines, they also can be targets for late-night crime.

Police and sheriff's reports show that armed robbers and other crooks have targeted six Walgreens and CVS pharmacies in Orange and Seminole counties in the past four weeks.

In some cases, robbers forced workers into coolers at gunpoint, robbed them and customers of their money, and looted the stores' cash registers before taking off.

None of the suspects has been arrested.

But instead of the drugstore giants shortening their store hours and depriving shoppers of late-night services, they are improving safety and trusting that police will catch the criminals.

"We don't release details on our security measures, but it's been our experience that crime sprees such as this end in arrests, and that's what we would expect to happen here," Walgreens spokeswoman Carol Hively said.

The two chains have more than 40 pharmacies in the Orlando area that stay open 24 hours.

The number of drugstores hit by robbers this year was unavailable Wednesday, but 21 were robbed in the Metro Orlando area during the first six months of 2007, law-enforcement records show.

CVS spokesman Mike DeAngelis said company officials are looking into the recent robberies at the Central Florida stores.

"We have security policies and procedures in place at all of our stores, and we regularly review them to ensure effectiveness," DeAngelis said.

Hively said Walgreens has been upgrading surveillance systems at its pharmacies.

Although some shoppers said they appreciate the added attention to security, others are concerned about walking into one of the 24-hour pharmacies during a robbery.

"I keep hearing these stories of people getting locked in coolers and guns pointed at them," said Jenny Shrieves, a College Park resident who often shops at the CVS off Maury Road. "It scares me."

Orange County deputies said that shortly after 4 a.m. Tuesday, two armed robbers with T-shirts over their faces robbed employees, customers and the registers at the CVS on Conroy-Windermere Road.

On Sunday, robbers hit a CVS on John Young Parkway at 3:30 a.m. One person was pistol-whipped in the jaw, and others were forced to the ground at gunpoint.

The robberies are not confined to Orange County.

Employees at a Walgreens in Lake Mary in Seminole County were forced into a cooler June 13 and told they would be shot if they didn't remain inside the cold-storage unit.

Orlando police records show that a man in a hood tried to rob a Walgreens on East Colonial Drive on May 26 but was spooked when an employee sounded the alarm.

A few days later at a Walgreens on Curry Ford Road, a man tried to pass off a fake prescription for a pain reliever. He was denied the medication but stole a pair of shorts, a toothbrush and sunglasses before an employee stopped him at the door.

"I know there are security cameras here, but how are they going to prevent a crime?" asked Thom McNeer of Orlando, who was shopping at the Maury Road CVS on Wednesday. "Who's going to stop the robber?"