Convenience stores and gas stations in Prince George's County would have to improve their security if the County Council passes a bill meant to curb commercial crime.
The proposal would force convenience stores and gas stations that are open between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. to put their employees through a training program that would include cash handling and what to do in the event of a robbery, and stores would have to register with the county. Stores also would have to install high-resolution digital security cameras and drop safes, and they would not be allowed to have more than $75 in the cash register.
There are about 600 stores open after midnight, according to the county police department.
"A lot of our convenience stores are great sitting targets for crime," said Councilman Mel Franklin, D-Upper Marlboro, who introduced the bill with Councilman Eric Olson, D-College Park. "It's really driving our crime numbers up. Way up."
While commercial robberies are down in the county -- 224 this year compared with 259 at the same point last year -- 27 percent of this year's incidents have happened between midnight and 7 a.m., according to the police department.
"We need legislation that compels businesses to do just a little bit more," said Kevin Davis, the county's assistant police chief. "When public safety is supported and crime is down, it has a long-term effect on economic development."
Some business advocates, however, have pushed back on the costs associated with fortifying convenience stores and gas stations against late-night robberies.
"Small businesses are hurting as it is right now," said Kirk McCauley, director of member relations for the Washington, Maryland, Delaware Service Station and Automotive Repair Association. "Making them buy a whole new camera system doesn't make a whole lot of sense."
Under the bill, store owners would be given a yearlong grace period to meet the new security requirements. Those that don't comply afterward would be fined $500 per offense.
To keep costs down, Olson said the police department could produce safety videos that store employees would watch online to meet training requirements. Another portion of the bill, which would require stores to install a silent alarm system, was removed in committee due to cost concerns.
"We're focusing on the things that are attracting criminals," Davis said. "If we can get a handle on reducing the commercial crime happening, we can have a positive impact on the perception of our communities."
McCauley said his and other organizations would work with the council to find the right balance between ensuring public safety and keeping business expenses at a minimum.
"They all look like good ideas," McCauley said. "It's just about what we can afford right now."