With continuing concern about high levels of retail crime, the boss of Tesco, Ken Murphy, writing in the Daily Mail recently, called for judges to make greater use of their new powers to give longer sentences for those who assault retail workers after a rise in verbal and physical attacks on staff.
He also requested a better partnership between retailers and law enforcement agencies suggesting that, “when someone is picked up for committing a crime in a store, the business should have a right to know how the case is proceeding – which does not happen at the moment.”
The UK’s biggest retailer has followed other stores, such as Boots and the Co-op, in rolling out body-worn cameras to its customer-facing staff. Additionally, Tesco has invested “£44 million over the last four years on security measures such as door access systems, protection screens and digital radios.”
Meanwhile the Chair of John Lewis, Sharon White, has called for the government to to set up a Royal Commission to investigate the problems faced by town centres and for more action to tackle retail crime. In an article published in the Daily Telegraph she said High Streets risked, “becoming a looting ground for emboldened shoplifters and organised gangs. Retailers are trying to do their part to keep customers and their staff safe, introducing bodycams, stepping up security and increasing CCTV. The recent supportive words from the police and Home Secretary – that no crime is trivial and promising to pursue all crimes – are very welcome. We need a comprehensive plan to stop organised gangs who have a licence to steal.”
John Lewis and Tesco are reported to be among 10 retailers set to fund a new police operation that aims to deter shoplifters. Under Project Pegasus, police are to run CCTV pictures of shoplifting incidents provided by the retailers via the Police National Database.
Usdaw supports the call for action on retail crime
Paddy Lillis, the General Secretary of the retail workers’ trades union Usdaw, said: “We very much welcome this high-level support from the UK’s biggest retailer for a campaign aim that Usdaw has pursued for many years through our Freedom from Fear campaign.”
“We are working with employers like Tesco to ensure better protection for shopworkers. There is no doubt that body-worn cameras do have a deterrent effect and we are supportive of such measures aimed at reducing violence, threats and abuse at work. Staff wearing cameras need to be properly trained and the public must be fully aware they are in use, to act as a deterrent to would-be attackers.
“Faced with such appallingly high levels of violence and abuse much more needs to be done. There must be better coordination to ensure that government, retail employers, police and the courts work together to help protect shopworkers, giving them the respect, they deserve.”
The trade union has been running its Freedom from Fear Campaign aiming to end violence and abuse against retail workers since 2007.
Attacks on retail staff increase since pandemic
Surveys by both the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and Usdaw show the increasing number of reports of abuse of retail workers.
The latest retail crime survey published in March by the BRC found that incidents of violence and abuse against retail workers rose from a pre-Covid high of 450 per day in 2019-20 to more than 850 last year. In his article Ken Murphy wrote that at Tesco, physical assaults were up by a third on this time last year.
Usdaw’s 2022 annual survey which was based on interviews with retail workers about their experience of abuse at work found that 74% reported having received verbal abuse compared with 68% in 2019, with 49% saying they were threatened up from 43% three years before. Shop workers 8% said they had been physically assaulted compared with 5% in 2019. In 34% of cases the abuse was triggered by shoplifting or armed robbery.
BRC wants Mayors and Police and Crime Commissioners to do more to tackle retail crime
As we covered in a previous blog the BRC last year called on police to act on an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act which created a statutory aggravating factor to assaults committed against those “providing a public service or performing a public duty”. However, Ken Murphy and Sharon White have called for England& Wales to follow Scotland and “make abuse or violence towards retail workers an offence in itself.”
The BRC has now requested that the UK government improve reporting around the amendment to see its impact and has also asked local government to ensure retail crime is a clear priority in local policing strategies.
It appeared that the BRC did not feel that authorities had acted fast enough as this July the organisation wrote to mayors and Police and Crime Commissioners across the UK to calling on them to do more to protect retail workers. The BRC 2023 retail crime survey revealed incidents of theft in stores have increased by 27% across ten of the largest cities in the UK, with some cities up as much as 68%. The BRC survey also showed the total cost of retail crime stood at £1.76 billion in 2021/22. £953 million was lost to customer theft, with eight million incidents of theft over the year. Retailers also spent £715 million on crime prevention in 2021/22.
The BRC’s call for more action to tackle retail crime was echoed by the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) which represents smaller shop owners. The ACS 2023 crime report from that 87% of staff working in convenience stores had experienced verbal abuse over the last year and 79% of retailers believed that the cost of living crisis has led to an increase in theft. The ACS survey also found that almost two-thirds (63%) of crime is driven by repeat and prolific offenders, with drug or alcohol addictions and, local organised criminal gangs, among the main drivers of offending.
The Co-op, which is predominantly focused on the convenience store sector, has recently extended a its trial of anti-theft, empty, ‘dummy display packaging’ for targeted products on its shelves which it said would deter rising levels of crime driven by prolific and persistent offenders. This scheme means that for certain products such as coffee; higher-value chocolates, washing powder and laundry gels, shoppers take the dummy display case to the till where it is exchanged for the actual product.
How we can help tackle Retail Crime
While action by law enforcement agencies and government, along with increased public funding, is important if there is to be a reduction retail crime there are steps that retailers can take to protect their stock and their staff.
We can offer a range of security and protection solutions that could help retailers. These include:
Motorola body-worn cameras
For front-line customer service staff, we offer the lightweight Motorola VT100 body-worn camera, which is the type rolled out across Co-op stores. The camera is a small, unobtrusive device which has proven to deter public aggression towards workers while capturing evidential footage when necessary.
It can be used by any customer-facing staff who may find themselves in challenging situations or confrontational incidents with the public. At a quick touch of a button, they can ensure that the camera is capturing the abusive or violent events.
Additionally, if shop owners have employed security guards to protect their retail space, we can offer the more robust Motorola Solutions VB400 body-worn camera. Security professionals may also be subject to abuse from customers or members of the public and feel unsafe.
This body-worn camera is built with a toughened exterior that has been tested to military standards. The large central button and robust side switch are positioned for easy operation, even when wearing gloves.
We offer the Avigilon Alta 100% cloud-based CCTV solution combined with Avigilon Ava cameras as well as the Avigilon Unity suite of video management software and CCTV camera options. Both are advanced solutions that use machine-learning to provide powerful, but simple to operate, CCTV systems. This means you can easily search for people, have watch lists set up using facial recognition and be alerted about unusual activity.
We are well-established Avigilon partners and our expertise means we can provide advice on the best cameras to use and the ideal locations for cameras. Both the Avigilon solutions are scalable and the surveillance platforms can be accessed remotely so whatever the size of your project we can support you.
Meanwhile the Motorola body-worn cameras can be integrated into your Avigilon CCTV system allowing security personnel to respond quickly when incidents occur.
Added protection from security fog
For retailers their stock is vital for the success of their business. If you have a burglary or attempted break-in you could be faced with thousands of pounds worth of losses, your assets will need replacing and there could be high repair costs. At the same time there will be a lot of time spent with police and your insurance company dealing with the aftermath of the incident.
Density Fog Generators provide active protection to retailers allowing you, or those managing your security, to take instant action when an intruder gets into your shop. The generators create thick fog within seconds that will stop intruders in their tracks so they are unable to get further inside your property to approach your stock. Instead, their only option will be to escape outside which will save you money from further attempts to find a point of entry and prevent them reaching your goods.
Density has developed a range of fog generators that will operate in all areas of the retail sector from small convenience stores to large supermarkets and shopping malls.
How we can help
As we noted in a previous blog the increase in verbal and physical abuse suffered by retail staff is a worrying trend and has combined with growing concern about shoplifting when managers in the sector feel police forces are not prioritising these types of crime.
We can support retail businesses with crime prevention and security measures that can help make staff feel safer and protect shop goods. If you would like to know more about all of our security solutions, please contact us.