Retail crime always has a huge impact on retailers but what bothers them the most is the often indifferent police follow-up. Many retailers are on record as being not satisfied with the police response.
According to the British Retail Consortium’s (BRC) Retail Crime Report 2021, 60 per cent of retailers rated the category “police response positively” as poor or very poor with only 40 per cent giving it a good or fair mark.
Most of the independent stores in the UK face so-called “low-level” crimes such as theft and verbal abuse, which are not even reported to police on regular basis. The BRC report in fact found that only 54 per cent of crimes of violence and abuse are reported by retailers, meaning that the official rates are almost double in reality.
To tackle the low-level retail crime faced by independent retailers, and to help the government by providing accurate statistic on the retail crime for more stringent law, it is important that retailers report every sort of crime committed in their stores.
“Theft by customers is the biggest single source of loss at nearly £1 billion and accounts for over 95 per cent of the incidents, yet it is often perceived as a matter for retailers themselves to deal with rather than the police, not least where the theft is of low value and not seen as related to wider issues of gangs or addiction, as is often the case,” the BRC report on retail crime 2021 says.
It additionally reveals that violence and abuse against staff is seen as the number one issue for retailers by far – with only six per cent of cases leading to prosecution, the perception of the police response is likely to be low. At the same time, it is exactly these sorts of incident that are viewed as a local policing responsibility and shape public and retail perceptions of the police.
In this edition of the retail crime section, Asian Trader spoke to industry trade bodies such as the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) and The Federation of Independent Retailers (NFRN) to understand their views on police response to retail crime; their roles in tackling retail crime; and what measures they suggest to their members in protecting their business, and employees from retail crime.
The NFRN National President Narinder Randhawa told Asian Trader, “The level of police response has seriously undermined retailers’ confidence in the system. The NFRN has raised this with the Home Office, and as a result it has now recognised the issue of a lack of confidence in the police and under-reporting of offences. However, the NFRN encourages members to report all crimes committed in their stores. This will show the police the true extent of these crimes in their force area and highlight the need for a more robust response.”
ACS chief executive James Lowman commented, “Retailers are often rightly unsatisfied with the level and consistency of the police response when it comes to so called ‘low-level’ crimes like theft and verbal abuse. For more serious crimes, the police usually respond quickly and follow up appropriately; but there are times when they don’t, and our conversations with the police are about prioritising crime so that violence is always met with a police response.
It is becoming more widely understood that the best way to ensure more funds are allocated to fighting retail crime is to report them exhaustively. Retailers’ reports are collated officially and provide the statistical basis for budget decisions – so the more crimes, the more police resources devoted to tackling them. By under-reporting, the retail sector is only harming itself.
“While it can be frustrating, we urge retailers to ensure that they report every crime that takes place in their business, online for thefts where the offender has left the premises, and by ringing 999 where there is violence, and the incident is ongoing,” added Lowman. “We will continue to push Police and Crime Commissioners to prioritise retail crime in their local plans, as well as highlighting the issue of police response at a national level to Government and the National Business Crime Centre.”
In its report, even BRC stressed that all retail crime should be reported if a response is to be given and statistics are to be recorded accurately. It said, “If only 54 per cent of violent and abusive incidents are reported, it is likely that even fewer theft-related incidents are reported especially where the perpetrator is not pursued for lack of clear evidence. To this end reporting procedures should be simplified with a single online reporting tool for all forces.”
The updating and modernising of reporting and collating of crimes has been underway across the UK’s forty-three police forces for several years now, with a view to eliminating differing methods that exclude or overlap and therefore allow crimes to go unnoticed at government level.
But the government should also make crystal clear its guidelines for enforcement.
“Forces should be clear that there is no policy to ignore thefts under £200 and this should be widely communicated to the public,” says the BRC. “In the absence of clear evidence that this is the case, there will be clear incentives for criminals to continue to work the system and perceptions of the police response will remain negative.
“The police must recognise the potential for retail crime to be used by criminal gangs and by addicts to support their habit – but only an effective response will ensure the pieces of the jigsaw are brought together both in terms of a specific set of crimes and overall.”
The BRC also promotes exchanges on best practice at a local level between police and retailers through helping to promote the exchange of successful practices nationwide.
Tackling retail crime is one of NFRN’s top priorities and its political engagement team regularly engages with MPs and peers of all parties to raise awareness and push for a change in the law to protect independent retailers and their staff.
Randhawa said, “Our political engagement team has also held meetings with police and crime commissioners (PCCs) across England and Wales to urge them to include tackling retail crime as a priority in their five-year crime plans – and NFRN members now sit on local PCC business crime groups.”
The NFRN is the secretariat for the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on retail crime and is currently lobbying members of the House of Lords to amend the Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to make verbally or physically attacking retailers and their staff in their place of work a specific offence.
The association believes that for most independent retailers, the cost of updating their CCTV and other security systems effectively puts them out of reach. It has therefore called on the government to introduce financial support to help retailers cover the costs of upgrading their security systems, so that they can sufficiently capture evidence of any violations of the law in their stores and can provide maximum protection for their staff and customers alike. As the current security systems of small retailers are not always sufficient to capture occurrences or the extent of crime in their stores, the shop owners, workers, and customers are being left vulnerable and unsafe.
ACS is also working closely with the government to highlight the importance of tackling retail crime, providing data and case studies through its annual Crime Report, working with other business groups on the National Retail Crime Steering Group, and constantly meeting with and feeding in information to the Home Office about the crime that retailers face.
“We have also supported changing the law to make attacking retail workers a more serious offence. Crime is one of the first issues we raise when we talk to MPs in parliament and in convenience stores across the country,” said Lowman. “ACS has also organised the nationwide ShopKind campaign to provide a friendly reminder to customers that the people working in shops deserve to be treated with respect. Another key ACS project is working with Crimestoppers to offer rewards for the most serious incidents, if the investigating police force support this, and through this approach we have raised the profile of incidents to help bring offenders to justice,” he concluded.
The message is clear: every crime needs reporting for more crimes to have a chance of being solved.
The BRC suggests a good police response to tackling and responding to retail crime is vital:
- It encourages reporting by retailers which is currently as low as 54% in the case of crimes of violence and abuse.
• It provides the opportunity for victim support statements when crimes of violence or abuse are prosecuted.
• It is the most effective deterrent.
• It facilitates a more accurate collection of statistics and data by the police themselves.
• It enables police forces to prioritise their activities and resources more in line with the actual needs of communities based on their own understanding of crimes in any given area or community.
The NFRN’s recommendations to the government’s Home Affairs Select Committee, asking for more support from the police include:
- That the £200 threshold for ‘low value’ shop theft be repealed.
- That police forces be required to record retail crime as a separate category within their crime statistics.
- For it to become mandatory for the police to offer the opportunity to those affected to submit to the courts a business or victim impact statement.
ACS has detailed guidance for retailers on how to deter criminals and avoid confrontation in stores:
- Even the simplest things like acknowledging customers as they walk through the door can be an effective way of letting people know that they’re being monitored.
- The vast majority of stores have CCTV (over 90%), but it’s important that retailers work with police to ensure that when a crime does take place, the footage they have is able to be used as evidence.
- Ultimately, the advice that we give to retailers and colleagues in stores is that people are more important than property. It’s not worth putting yourself in harms’ way to intervene in something like a theft that could easily escalate to a more serious incident.