Commercial

Retail reactions

by Mark Rowe

The chairman of the National Business Crime Solution (NBCS), the UK not-for-profit retail theft intelligence sharing body, has called for a re-setting of police and criminal justice priorities.

Tim Edwards praises the work between UK police forces and the NBCS for tackling organised cross border retail crime and the co-operation around Government-backed initiatives such as Operation Pegasus/Opal where some high street brands are paying for retail crime intelligence gathering for better deployment of police. Ahead of an NBCS conference at Old Trafford, Manchester on March 7, Edwards argues the underfunding of law enforcement as a result of years of Government austerity had created a ‘broken window’ syndrome around town centres where low police visibility led to brazen high street offending.

Edwards says: “Our NBCS statistics show that 82 per cent of offences are committed by just over 20 per cent of offenders while other figures demonstrate that these offenders are being caught and convicted of stealing up to 50 times before they are being jailed. Now, imagine how many actual offences must they commit before that occurs. Only 11 per cent of reported offences saw offenders brought to justice and this includes cautions, penalty notices as well as court appearances. Penalties for entering a bus lane are greater than for shop theft!

“You can walk in any town centre and be almost guaranteed to see a traffic enforcement officer or parking attendant on any day, why, because they bring in revenue. A record 11 million parking tickets were issued last year collecting over £1bn for local authorities. I remind Government that the retail sector pays for 10 per cent of all business taxes and 25 per cent of all business rates – we aren’t demanding special attention, just some!”

Edwards praised the Coop [pictured] for working with the NBCS in setting up business partnerships through the NBCS Connect Direct service, with police areas experiencing high crime rates which has resulted so far in 167 offenders dealt with across 14 police forces. This has resulted in offenders being sentenced to a total of 472 months in prison, 412 suspended sentences and 80 years-worth of criminal behaviour orders being handed down as well as 17 rehabilitation orders for those with drug or alcohol dependency issues. The NBCS seeks to build a more collegiate arrangement across all of the 43 police forces that the NBCS has data sharing agreements with.

Edwards added: “The Prime Minister is claiming a 15 per cent reduction in reported crime in the UK, although he omitted to mention shop theft reports are the highest they have been for a long time and losses due to retail crime estimates are at almost £8bn. Well, let me offer an explanation as to why reported crime could be down, quite simply, it is too difficult to report!

“And, when we do, there is very little police response anyway. On average, it takes roughly 25 minutes for our store managers to report a crime, and when they get no response, you can’t blame them for saying but what is the point? We all know about the knife threats made against our employees, and estimates indicate that 400 colleagues a day are threatened with violence, but this problem isn’t helped when we learn that only four out of ten offenders are actually prosecuted for knife possession.

The trade body the British Retail Consortium (BRC) is running a petition to lobby the Government for violence against a shop worker to be a separate offence and are looking for 100,000 signatures of support, Edwards noted.

“We are getting mixed signals in my opinion. There are promises improved police response and detection but then in the recent Kings speech it has been has suggested prison sentences of less than 12 months will no longer apply, with a presumption for judges that community sentences should be issued. So what alternatives are there then, an electronic tag, curfew perhaps?

“Stats show that the majority of offenders on a curfew being ordered to stay at home for 12 hours a day breached that order. The problem is that as a country, we have ignored ‘low level’ offending and where we have failed to deal with the low-level opportunist offending, this has now developed to become professional and organised, think ‘broken window theory’.

“Let me quote some instances of our failing judicial system: A female serial offender with more than 390 previous convictions was given a one-day detention order on a recent court appearance while a male offender with 291 previous convictions was allowed to walk free from court,

“The question is do we have we a dysfunctional and defective justice system which is leading to career criminals? Maybe the answer to that question lies in the following statistics: Despite representing only 9 per cent of the six million people convicted of a criminal offence in England and Wales over the past 20 years, “prolific offenders” represent nearly half of all convictions.”

Edwards, who has worked in retail of over 30 years in major UK PLC businesses, also is looking to get more support from business improvement districts (BIDs).

He says: “There is no bigger problem affecting our high street today than shop theft and violence and abuse, but we sit back and allow the Directors of each separate BID to spend the money on what they see as their priorities. We can change that! In my view there are simply not enough ‘high vis’ jackets acting as a deterrent patrolling our High Streets. As a collective we can influence the BIDs to spend on safety and security and demand they employ professional trained security officers. We should then ask relevant Chief Constables to accredit those officers under the Community Safety Accreditation Scheme, so that they have some real authority to issue fixed penalty notices, demand names and addresses and assist in the detention of shop thieves.”

Visit http://nationalbusinesscrimesolution.com.

This year, the ACS Pacesetters security contractor Kingdom Security has seen around 500 to 700 incidents reported per week across their national retail customer brands.

John Nussbaum, Director of Service for Retail at Kingdom Security, said: “In the past couple of years, we have seen a massive increase in incidents– anti-social behaviours, looting, abuse of staff and security. And this is with the security staff acting as a visible deterrent and other security measures – without this, the number of incidents would have been much higher.

“We’ve also noticed a really worrying rise in teenagers contributing to this – and children as young as ten, which is a very difficult situation for everyone involved. Staff may try to have a conversation with the parents if they can, but the situation needs very careful handling as the wrong response can make a situation worse. All Kingdom Security Officers, rapid response teams, store detectives and Senior Leadership team are specially trained to deal with younger people, teenagers and their families.

“Police, security officers and staff need to be working together to prevent the abuse of shop workers that is becoming more and more prevalent with shoplifting. Even if police respond more rapidly to incidents and patrol high streets more, the shop security are still the first line of defence and so need to be highly trained to protect customers, staff, and themselves from the threat of violence.

“Companies can spend millions on preventative measures to make stores safer, but without security that know the best practice for dealing with these volatile situations, shops could become an increasingly dangerous place to work. Highly trained security at the doors of shops can help neutralise situations and keep make sure both shop staff and customers feel calm and protected.”

Background

A Retail Crime Action Plan in October was released by police and the Home Office, to combat antisocial behaviour towards shop workers. It set out a police commitment to prevent shoplifting and prioritise police attendance of shop crimes if there is violence involved or shoplifters are being detained by the security officers. The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) recently stated that the Action Plan has had a significant impact.

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