Pharmacy robberies soar; CVS makes move to curb them

(WISH Photo

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indiana has a new distinction as the nation’s leader in pharmacy robberies with more than 130, according to authorities.

An I-Team 8 investigation has found that the bulk of the robberies, more than 80, have occurred at CVS stores in Indianapolis.

CVS, up until days ago, did not have time delay safes in any of its stores.

This week, CVS executives were in Indianapolis installing those safes in all 150 stores in the Indianapolis area.

The pharmacy giant’s competitor, Walgreens, installed them more than a year ago and claims to have seen a significant reduction in pharmacy robberies in 13 states where they have been used, company officials told I-Team 8.

The time delay safes require pharmacists to activate the safes before they can gain access to highly sought-after medications like Oxycontin and Hydrocodone. The delay, company officials with both Walgreens and CVS contend, will lead to a reduction in robberies.

During an exclusive interview with I-Team 8 this week, CVS Vice President of Loss Prevention Michael Silveira said that the company has installed time delay safes in Indianapolis in direct response to the problem with robberies.

“In this particular case we know it’s been a successful deterrent for other retailers. We studied it over the summer and determined it was the best thing for us to do at this time,” said Silveira.

When asked why the company took more than a year to act after Walgreens, Silveira said “Well, we have a number of different protocols that we employ and after studying and revisiting our protocols, we considered time delay and figured it was time to do it after careful study.”

Sources tell I-Team 8 that the company has been somewhat hesitant to make changes, according to current employees who spoke on a condition of anonymity.

During the past year before CVS had installed the time delay safes, an I-Team 8 analysis of crime data found that pharmacy robberies occurred at more than 80 CVS pharmacies in the Indianapolis area; compared to less than 30 at Walgreens pharmacies, which had installed time delay safes in 13 states.

“It is a concern, but we are not relying solely on the time delay safes,” said Kara Williams, the pharmacy supervisor for the Indianapolis district.

Williams said she has spoke to CVS employees who said they were encouraged that the company was making efforts to address the high number of robberies.

“Potential robbers like to get in and get out as quickly as possible. With time delay safes, we will not have access to our narcotic medications on demand. There will be a wait period, which we’ve seen through studies has been a significant deterrent,” said Williams.

Four days into the new year, the CVS pharmacy at the corner of 38th Street and Illinois Street was robbed by a 16-year old suspect who police say used a note demanding pills and threatening to kill everyone if his demands weren’t met.

The robberies began in Indianapolis one day into the new year and have continued at a steady pace. In the 36 weeks marked off the calendar this year, pharmacy robberies have occurred in 32 of them, an I-Team 8 analysis found.

That same store at 38th Street and Illinois Street would be robbed four more times in the coming weeks.

It has happened again and again at other pharmacies all over Indianapolis.

In fact, the robberies are still happening. This year, Indianapolis has seen at least 112 pharmacy robberies, according to an I-Team analysis of crime data. I-Team 8 has created an interactive database which shows the dates and locations of each robberies, which can be found by clicking here.

When the surrounding feeder communities are factored into the equation, the number grows closer to 130, a figure that gives Indiana its own distinction – as the number producer in the United States of pharmacy robberies.

An I-Team 8 investigation has found that in many of the cases the suspects have walked in armed with only a threatening note and made off with thousands of dollars worth of prescription pills. At a robbery last month at a CVS pharmacy along East Washington Street, a police report notes the suspect made off with more than $6,000 worth of pills. Another one in early May along East 38th Street shows the suspect made off with $10,000 worth of pills, according to police records.

“The rate that they are happening now is unacceptable,” said Lt. Craig McCartt with IMPD’s robbery unit. “Many of these notes have essentially a laundry list of what they want, so they don’t have to remember anything. I just think it’s simple for them.”

While authorities cannot say with certainty why these are occurring at such a high rate, one theory among law enforcement agencies is that Indiana’s struggle with opiates – in particular heroin – has created a rich black market demand for more prescriptions pills on the streets.

“If that is in fact the case, if that scenario is accurate, then it’s an organized crime problem that’s fueling an addiction problem,” said Noblesville Police Chief Kevin Jowitt. “But to answer your question, is it unsettling? Yes it is.”

Noblesville Police Chief Kevin Jowitt was one of the arresting officers at a robbery at CVS pharmacy in Noblesville last month, a suburban town about 25 minutes north of Indianapolis. The community had not recorded a robbery in more than a year – until this summer where two have occurred in the last two months.

At the most recent robbery, court records 18-year old Shawn Baker went into the CVS store, handed over a note implying that he had “a gun and would shoot” and demanded Perocet, Roxicodone, Xanax and Hydrocodone. He was arrested a short time later at a nearby McDonald’s where police say he was attempting to make a phone call. Court records show Baker admitted to officers that he did not have a job and “needed the money.”

A not guilty plea was entered on his behalf at his initial court appearance. Baker is awaiting an October trial. He declined a request to be interviewed.

Comments are closed.