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The decoy defense

In the struggle to make convenience store owners more conscious of the safety of their employees, local governments throughout Florida have heard just about every excuse. But the real beaut came last week in Citrus County. As county commissioners were approving an emergency ordinance to require strict safety measures - including forcing stores to have at least two clerks on duty from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. - the director of security for Huntley-Jiffy Food Stores, Wendell Shaw, offered a curious argument. Let's call it the "decoy defense."

It goes like this: If stores require two clerks, robbers may be encouraged to go after a different target - such as your house! They might even attack people on the street, Shaw said.

Convenience store representatives have harped that having two clerks on for the graveyard shift won't do any good, but Shaw unwittingly provided fodder for the growing legion who believe that is nonsense.

Obviously if an additional clerk is going to encourage a robber to seek another target, it must be an effective security tool.

In adopting its ordinance, Citrus County joins a growing list of local governments that have accepted the research of the city of Gainesville and a University of Florida professor who interviewed prisoners convicted of robbing convenience stores. The evidence is abundant that the two-clerk rule discourages criminals.

Still, despite shocking acts of violence - murders and rapes of clerks left alone and vulnerable in the dark hours - so many other elected officials bow to the wishes of the convenience store industry.

Hillsborough County commissioners, for instance, decided last week to force some security requirements but stopped short of the two-clerk rule. Instead, they will study the situation for a year. That ought to give real comfort to the store clerks who must sit alone at 3 o'clock in the morning and worry that the next customer through the door will be the one with a gun.