‘A loaded gun in every aisle’: Hy-Vee is introducing a new retail security team

A member of Hy-Vee’s retail security team wearing a handgun, taser, body camera, pepper spray and handcuffs, shown on a screenshot of b-roll video from Hy-Vee on Dec. 30, 2021.

The shoulder patches say, “A Helpful Smile in Every Aisle,” but the police-style uniforms, complete with belts with holstered taser and possibly handguns, may send a very different message as Hy-Vee deploys a new retail security team in its stores.

The West Des Moines-based supermarket chain will begin introducing its own security force “as part of its ongoing efforts to ensure the health and safety of both its customers and employees,” the company announced in a news release on Dec. 29. The program will roll out throughout 2022, but security teams are already present in some stores.

Internal job postings reveal that security officers will patrol and monitor the premises and “if needed, [apprehend] theft suspects in compliance with Hy-Vee’s standards and guidelines.”

Other listed duties include:

  • Exhibiting respect, concern and patience in all customer and employee interactions.
  • Monitors the store property, as well as customer and employee activities, for potential theft of assets or damage to assets on Hy-Vee’s property.
  • Takes appropriate action to prevent theft; apprehends individuals engaged in theft activity.
  • Reports any internal theft suspicions and observations to Loss Prevention Area Manager.
  • Assists Loss Prevention with investigations.
  • Makes recommendations to Directors regarding loss prevention best practices.
  • Contacts and coordinates with local law enforcement regarding known offenders or suspicious persons observed during duties, parking lot accidents, notifies fire department or ambulance services in case of emergency, maintains public safety within the store.
  • Reports unsafe conditions inside and outside of the store to management.

While the news release did not say whether security team members will be armed, the job posting requires applicants to “be able to demonstrate proficiency with duty weapon” and “to pass [a] designated handgun qualification course.” They must also complete a defensive tactic course.

The job requires a high school diploma or equivalent; prior experience working in law enforcement, military or corrections; and a permit to carry a firearm, or eligibility to acquire a permit.

A video released by Hy-Vee shows the security team members carrying a handgun, taser, pepper spray, two magazine pouches, handcuffs, a flashlight and wearing a body camera. The security officers in the video are also unmasked and do not follow social distancing guidelines.

The stated goal of the new security force “is to create a consistent look for the security team and consistent approach to customer service and security across all of our stores,” according to the news release. Previously, Hy-Vee has used third-party security contractors or off-duty law enforcement in its stores.

When asked for an interview, Hy-Vee spokesperson Christina Gayman told Little Village, “We have nothing further to add.”

Gayman told the Des Moines Register there has not been increased theft at Hy-Vee locations, though they have seen an apparent increase in thefts from retail stores nationwide. Hy-Vee hopes to have one security officer present during each store’s operating hours, she said.

“The goal of our retail security program is to be a visual deterrent to crime and violence,” she told the Register via email. “Our officers will move throughout the stores, but this is more about being a visual deterrent and less about watching customers.”

Hy-Vee’s Vice President of Security Jaime Sipes repeated this statement to KY3-TV in Missouri, again pointing to an apparent increase in thefts in U.S. retail stores.

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“We’re really a visual deterrent to criminal activity and violence,” Sipes said. “And so we are not looking to interrupt people’s rights. We’re there to be an extension of our legendary customer service within Hy-Vee to ensure the safety of our customers and our employees.”

Property crime nationwide has decreased from 2010 to 2020, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Within that time frame, burglary has decreased 53.4 percent, robbery 32.5 percent and larceny 27.4 percent.

Hy-Vee may have seen a 2021 national retail security survey by the National Retail Federation, an industry trade group. But it found that the average shoplifting apprehensions, prosecutions and civil demands in FY 2020 were lower than numbers from the previous five years.

Around 69 percent of retailers surveyed saw an increase in organized retail crime (ORC) in 2020, which includes crimes like professional shoplifting, cargo theft and retail crime rings. But one individual acting alone is not considered ORC.

Hy-Vee’s security teams will not help prevent massive data breaches, however. In 2018 and 2019, hackers stole information on more than 5.3 million debit and credit cards, which was later posted on Joker’s Stash, a website that sells stolen card data. Affected customers filed a class action lawsuit in October 2019, alleging Hy-Vee had failed to take reasonable actions to protect customer payment information and failed to notify customers of the data breech in a timely manner. Hy-Vee’s legal representatives could not convince a judge to dismiss the case, so the company decided to settle before plaintiffs’ attorneys could begin the discovery process and gain access to internal company documents.

Hy-Vee’s announcement was met with mockery on Twitter as users highlighted the contradiction of presenting the officers as protecting the safety of customers and employees while not wearing masks amid a COVID-19 surge. Others said it was likely security officers would unfairly target people of color as they try to shop.

One user created a “Hy-Vee Police Department Unit Parody” account with a modified version of the supermarket chain’s well-known slogan in its bio: “Where there’s a h̶e̶l̶p̶f̶u̶l̶ loaded s̶m̶i̶l̶e̶ gun in every aisle. Got questions? Our officers are standing by with weapons. Parody (until it’s not).”