Enough Is Enough: Clerks Fight Back

Working at a convenience store is one of the more dangerous jobs in America. In fact, four times as many store clerks are killed on the job as firefighters.

Crime is down in America, but there is still an average of 100 convenience store robberies every day.

Some clerks like Eric Piva are getting fed up.

A few months ago, a man, who Piva thought looked suspicious, came into his gas station store in Encinitas, Calif.

The man put a bag on the counter, pulled out a blowtorch, and told Piva to load the bag with money.

Piva didn't give him the money.

"If he'd showed a gun, I'd give him the money for sure. But you know he brought out a blowtorch, so I said, You know, it's fair game right here. So I grab this big bat and I go 'Load it yourself, MF,'" he said.

Piva beat him with the bat and then chased him out of the store and into the parking lot, where he kept hitting him. But the robber got away with a woman whom police call his accomplice.

Police say they understand why clerks like Piva fight back.

"I think Eric was frustrated, and it is his right to resist, being a victim, and unfortunately I think frustration is rising," said Capt. Glenn Revell of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.

Stores hope technology will soon deter many thieves.

Some surveillance systems enable people monitoring stores from miles away to make voice announcements telling would-be shoplifters they've been caught.

Thousands of convenience stores employ security services like Westec Interactive (www.westecnow.com), and for 24 hours a day, Westec cameras watch. The services can call police if they see trouble, but more often, they just talk. Thieves are told: "Put it back immediately and leave the store. If you fail to do so, police will be dispatched."

And 98 percent of the time, they say, that's enough to get the robber to back off. That's much better than having a store clerk intervene, police say. In fact, police tell clerks, "Don't resist. Just give up the money."

"Don't be a vigilante. Don't be a hero. It's not worth the risk. Let the professionals handle it," said Donald Henne, a former lieutenant commander with the New York City Police Department.

San Diego's Revell agrees. "If they believe the assailant is armed, they need to do everything they're told to do," he said.

The convenience store industry agrees too. It says clerks who resist are much more likely to be hurt than those who cooperate.

Some convenience stores have even fired clerks who have intervened -- even those who intervened successfully. But lots of clerks say they're still going to do what they feel is necessary to defend themselves.

The Exxon station in Bethlehem, Pa., where Jimmy Singh works, was robbed five times in three weeks by the same thief.

"We know he's gonna come back. We know that," Singh said.

When the robber returned, Singh's brother pulled out a baseball bat. He knocked the knife from the robber's hand, and kept hitting him.

But the robber got away -- for a while. Police eventually found him at his home, with lumps on his head, and they arrested him. He pleaded not guilty and is currently awaiting trial.

One crook drove his truck through the front doors of a convenience store in Glendale, Calif. The clerk reacted by grabbing a phone by the cord and swinging it at the driver.

At a Kansas City, Kan., store, a clerk said a man came in and told him he had a gun. The robber went behind the counter and pressed up against the clerk, trying to get to the register. The clerk eventually realized the robber didn't have a gun. He pulled out a golf club and chased him out of the store. He's proud of what he did, and enjoying compliments from friends. "Tiger Woods, that's what they call me," he said.

Sunoco clerk Karen Smith kept a gun at her store for protection, though she'd never fired it. When a robber told her to empty her cash register, she complied, but then he told her, "Step out from behind the counter." "The only thing I could think about is that he was getting ready to hurt me," she said. "So I just said, I'm gonna try to shoot him first before he gets me." She shot the robber in the shoulder. Later she told reporters that the robber said: "Call 911, you shot me in the arm."

The crook was arrested and found guilty of robbery. No charges were filed against Smith. Still, her boss told her if it happened again, try not to use a weapon.

Eric Piva's boss told him not to resist next time. But he and other clerks say they're proud of what they did even though they hold no ownership rights in their stores. They say they'd do it again because they've had enough.

"I felt good after that because I beat up a thief. Hopefully he comes back, I'll beat him up again."