Kroger: A Case Study in Security Theater

Security Theater, simply put, is what you see when you go to the airport, or a court house, or perhaps even your local gas station. A well designed and functional security system should be seen, not used.

I would, 100 times over, rather somebody who wants to do me harm, see my security cameras and decide it isn’t worth the risk, then have my vehicle stolen or my house burglarized and successfully prosecute them.

However there’s people out there, like myself who work in the security industry and who take a keen observation of security processes, procedures, and controls in an environment as more of a learning lesson than anything else. There’s other who share my interest and aren’t paid to improve security and instead commit crimes for profit.

Today, I’m going to share with you what I’m seeing happen at my local Kroger store. This isn’t in some terrible dying city like San Francisco, it is in small town, well-to-do Texas. Kroger is stepping up their security controls, but not really.

This specific store (and perhaps others) are in such an extreme state of disrepair. Most of the carts have square wheels at this point, panels hanging off above sliding doors. When it rains, the floor floods and there’s taped “Xs” on the floor as well as rags and buckets. You’d really think how often their merchandise rings up incorrectly that they could use that inventory:forecasted profit ratio to improve it.

So, the other day I walked into the store and noticed this gate going up, as well as the rail fencing next to it. This is at an entrance away from the point of purchase, so it makes sense — it will stop people from loading up a cart and running out with it. It also keeps people from walking out without going through the last point of purchase as well, arguably preventing them from saying “they forgot” to buy something.

In the dying metropolises where crime is rampant and oft ignored, this seems like a smart idea at best and an absolute lawsuit waiting to happen at worst if a fire happens and somebody cannot exit quick enough.

A few days later, they had it fixed, and my kid of course ran up and touched it:

Being right near the service desk, the mild beeping (much quieter than the Anti-Theft pedestals) started to go off. I, of course, told my kid to back away from it and looked to the person at the service desk (which is generally empty) to give them the parental “sorry” face. Instead, they didn’t even look over.

So, security theater:

  • System exists that needs to be able to operate bidirectionally for fire code, so it will not inhibit an exit
  • The gate alarm sounds and the staff do not acknowledge it
  • I also observed the doorway and the gate opening without any people within range, which makes me think perhaps there’s an HVAC duct nearby triggering the PIR? Not really sure on this one.

At the other end of the store — there were more gates, and they’re located in such a way that whenever somebody is exiting after making a purchase, they walk past these gates and they open, creating a path for somebody to exit at that point if they’re patient enough to wait for it to open.

Even worse, when you enter, the camera and screen showing your entry (and monitoring these gates) is completely washed out or the camera is defective. This reduces the apparent usefulness of the cameras in the store and shows that they are not being monitored or at least maintained.

Especially this camera, which I’ve reported over eight times in the past several months to various staff and it is still hanging by its connector:

The other issue with those sorts of cameras is that it is very obvious what is being monitored, it’s not a 360 camera and there are blind spots. So, what is it pointing at?

This area, which until recently was an open path between the store interior and the exit. They’ve added these rails and apparently turned it into a crap collection area. Perhaps this was a valid area to watch in the past, but again, this points to unmonitored or unmaintained video equipment.

They implement these anti-theft wheels that detect when you leave the parking lot with the cart (to stop people from making them their home I guess), or to stop people from running out of the store with merchandise.

Obviously, that one is worn down to the plastic.

Looking at the FCC filing for Gatekeeper Systems, who submitted this photo of their wheel’s internals, and used here under the Fair Use provision of United States Copyright Law, you can see the motor that is used to drive a linear mechanism that mechanically interferes with the rotation of the wheel. This means that if you decrease the friction of the wheel, you decrease the efficacy of the anti-theft mechanism since it’ll just slide along the ground.

This is further compounded by the uneven application of this security mechanism. I can simply pick a cart from an outdoor corral or the inside area that doesn’t have one of these wheels, since I’ve seen around half of them appeared not to have this.

Also at the exit is a camera that is around 7-8′ off the ground. This is well within reach and somebody could go through this door to enter and slap a piece of tape over it to render it useless.

I’ve also observed people leave and the inventory control pedestals alert near the door. The people exited without even turning around and nobody looked.

I recognize that this is a terrible time in the history of retail crime, and I realize that this post could potentially be used for nefarious purposes. My hope is that the folks working at any shopping center walk around and do an audit of their security controls. Take the mental perspective of somebody who wants to steal, and fix these areas. They’re not hard. Work more on the visible security control and less on enforcement, you can’t fix or stop all the bad folks but you can reduce opportunistic crimes and give me less shit to blog about at the same time.







One response to “Kroger: A Case Study in Security Theater”

  1. Hannibal Lecter Avatar
    Hannibal Lecter

    Jesus, that Kroger sounds like a terrible store. 0/10 would not recommend.

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