Customers at the Midwest grocery chain Hy-Vee will soon encounter armed security guards while shopping at stores in light of the recent surge in retail thefts.
The Iowa-based retailer unveiled plans Wednesday for the launch of a retail security team to operate at stores across eight states.
While the chain has not said if a specific incident prompted the initiative, Hy-Vee Vice President of Security Jamie Sipes suggested in an interview that a recent uptick in retail thefts nationwide was a factor.
“I think across the country, we’re seeing an increase in thefts and different crimes in retail locations,” Sipes told KYTV in Missouri. “So Hy-Vee made the decision to move forward with a forward-facing security program that includes the tools that an officer would need to keep employees and customers safe.”
Hy-Vee said the security officers, many of whom have backgrounds in law enforcement, will be trained in de-escalation techniques and “equipped to protect the safety” of customers and employees.
The chain released footage depicting the retail security officials dressed in uniform and equipped with badges, guns and tasers.
Hy-Vee said members of the retail security team are already on site at “several stores.” The company is actively recruiting for security roles and plans to add a security presence at stores in eight states “in the near future.”
Hy-Vee opted to start its own security operation after previously relying on outside contractors, the Kansas City Star reported.
“These officers will help provide another layer of safety and security for our customers, and will work alongside our store employees to deliver the same helpful smiles and outstanding service everyone expects at their local store,” Hy-Vee COO Jeremy Gosch said in a statement.
Hy-Vee did not return The Post’s request for further comment on the security initiative.
The grocery chain operates approximately 285 stores across eight Midwestern states and employs more than 93,000 workers.
Major retailers across the country have noted a spike in shoplifting and organized theft at stores during the COVID-19 pandemic. The most notable examples occurred in California, where brazen smash-and-grab robberies impacted high-end retailers such as Louis Vuitton and Nordstrom.
Fifty-seven percent of retailers have reported an uptick in “organized retail crime” during the pandemic, according to the National Retail Federation’s 2021 National Retail Security Survey.
The CEO of electronics retailer Best Buy warned in November that the rise of unruly customers and crime was “traumatizing for our associates.” The chain is hiring additional security guards at some locations, among other methods of curtailing in-store crime.
In September, Kroger Rodney McMullen said a loss of inventory driven by crime accounted for 25% percent of the decline in the grocery chain’s gross margins.