From getting advice on the latest legislation to dealing with retail crime, having local enforcement authorities on your side makes a difference
Managing crime in a convenience store can be a full-time job; 76% of retailers experienced shop theft in 2014, and 61% of retailers were subject to violence or physical abuse over the year, according to the Association of Convenience Stores’ (ACS) Crime Report 2015. But taking the time to build relationships with Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) and your local Trading Standards can be beneficial in reducing criminal activity.
“Retailers need to be seen as a positive part of the community and as legal and responsible businesses,” says ACS communications assistant Victoria Cummins. “This comes from building relationships with local police officers and Trading Standards so that the retailer is seen as part of local solutions rather than as a problem. If a retailer does make a mistake and is subject to enforcement, then it helps if officers have a positive view of that business,” she adds.
One retailer who has built a good rapport with his local PCSOs is Amit Patel of Belvedere Food and Wine in Kent. “The Safer Neighbourhood team is made up of PCSOs from Thames Valley Police, who look out for the local businesses. I have a really good relationship with them as they come into my store at least once a week, giving me the opportunity to talk to them,” he says.
How to build a better relationship with local police:
- Find out who your local PCSOs are
- Invite them to your store
- Get to know the police officers as people rather than a uniform
- Invite the officers to your next local business meeting
- Join a police ward panel
- Support police campaigns
“Having the police regularly visit my store is great for me because it can deter criminals. We only have the odd incident, but my relationship with the police has made these crimes easier to report as I can contact my PCSO directly; it’s also easier for the police to understand as they know my shop so well.”
But Amit’s relationship isn’t just one-sided. He is a member of the Bexley Police Ward Panel, comprising those who live and work within the same ward. He explains: “The panel meets quarterly at the police station to discuss the concerns facing the local community; these are usually regarding retail and crime. We then put together a list of priorities that we believe the police should be focusing on in the following quarter.”
As well as attending meetings, Amit works in conjunction with the police to help raise awareness of particular issues. Earlier this year Thamesmead Police were running a campaign against legal highs in which Amit got involved. He displayed posters in-store and handed leaflets to customers aged 12-18, the age group thought to be most attracted to using legal highs.
Use of legal highs, particularly laughing gas, had become problematic in the area. Says Amit: “I wanted to make sure people were aware of the long-term effects of these drugs, and what better way to do it than with a strong force behind me,” says Amit.
Between the two parties, Amit and the police were able to get their message heard, enhanced by their use of social media, predominantly Twitter. One of Amit’s most regular PCSOs, PC Chris Molnar, regularly tweeted images of Amit supporting the cause during the campaign, as well as the odd ‘police selfie’ with him, too.
“Amit does really well to deter criminals through his commitment to the force, welcoming attitude towards PCSOs in the store and through the proactive steps he has taken to make sure his store is secure, such as good quality CCTV,” says Molnar. “Retailer relationships are a valuable asset for us to have; they are the main link between us and the community, which can help us to both spread information but most importantly gain it, too.”
Adam Hogwood of Budgens of Broadstairs, Kent, also has a good relationship with his local PCSOs thanks to his friendly and welcoming attitude: “I like to think that the store is a haven, somewhere the PCSOs can come to get away from the pressures of work. They regularly use our tea room for breaks, or treat themselves to a Subway from our in-store counter,” says Adam. “We don’t always talk about work and community issues when they come in, but I like to talk to them as people, too, showing that I care and have an interest in their other hobbies. It’s the foundation for any relationship.”
Adam describes his relationship with the police as “invaluable”, not only because it strengthens his ties in the community, but “as low-value crimes are more commonly being treated as low-priority cases, it helps to have an officer attending who understands the nature of the business as they can advise the best way to proceed.
“I also have the local PCSOs’ direct numbers, 18 in fact, so if there is ever an emergency I can get in contact with someone quickly. Using the 101 number is a waste of time; more often than not I’m put on hold for at least 15 minutes before I get anywhere, and by this point the culprit is running free.”
Officers often take the time to warn Adam of any anti-social behaviour in the community, something Adam believes they would be less inclined to do if they didn’t respect the relationship they have. “I get a heads-up on specific criminals who have just been released from prison and a brief description of anyone I should be looking out for,” says Adam.
He also believes simply the presence of the police in the store helps deter crime, putting off would-be criminals and sending the message that crime is taken seriously.
Jatinder Sahota, who has had his Londis store on the Isle of Sheppey for 26 years, also sees the benefit of having good links with the police. “Because we liaise so regularly with the police, they have built up a presence in the store which helps to deter any anti-social behaviour. My staff also feel safer knowing they aren’t far away,” adds Jatinder.
Jatinder notices, as does Adam, that relationships like these are a two-way street: retailers help the police and the police help them. Jatinder says he is always on the ball, whether he is in the shop or taking a stroll through the town, and is attuned to any anti-social behaviour. “Anything a retailer can offer the police helps, which is why I keep an eye on everything happening in the community. In return, the PCSOs send me images of any criminals or scams I should be looking out for,” he adds.
Throughout his time on the Isle of Sheppey, Jatinder has built up relationships with not only the local police force, but MPs, councillors and Trading Standards, too, because “the better the relationship, the more help and support you get,” he says.
Jatinder worked closely with Trading Standards during his most recent store refit as he wanted to make sure his refit still met alcohol licensing terms. “I wanted to do some cross-merchandising and cross-promotions and I was unsure of the spots where I would be permitted to place alcoholic drinks,” he says.
However, while many retailers regularly contact Trading Standards for advice, some do their best to avoid the body, fearing officers are only there to catch them out. But Trading Standards want retailers to realise that this isn’t the case. Philip LeShirley from Surrey Trading Standards says: “Trading Standards aren’t out to get retailers, we are here to offer advice and help them to get it right. Our visits aren’t to be feared, they are usually quite relaxed and informal. The more retailers speak to their local Trading Standards, the more we know that they are on top of things and the less likely we are to do spot-checks.”
LeShirley advises retailers who want to build a stronger relationship with Trading Standards, or just want to keep on top of the latest information, to join the ACS Assured Advice Scheme. “Once retailers are part of this they will be able to gain helpful and positive advice from the ACS put together by us,” adds LeShirley. “If retailers then have any queries with regards to the information, the ACS can feed this back to us. It is a very beneficial process.”
He concedes that face-to-face retailer meetings don’t happen as often as he would like, largely due to the cuts Trading Standards have been exposed to over the years. “We have lost some 40% already and this looks to increase if the cuts in the Budget are anything to go by,” says LeShirley. “Because of this Trading Standards tends to visit stores only for action enforcement, or as a response to a complaint. But if a retailer would like to see us they are more than welcome to get in touch and schedule an appointment.”
In many circumstances, though, a simple phone call can help to cement good relations and solve queries. Simon Lunn from Simply Fresh, Axebridge in Somerset, doesn’t hesitate to pick up the phone to Trading Standards. “If I’m unsure about anything I’ll give our local group a call. Just last week a fuel-testing unit turned up at our forecourt, something we had never seen before. A bit worried, we rang Trading Standards and they assured us this was just a standard check to make sure our fuel was okay,” says Simon.
So rather than waiting for them to come to you, take the opportunity to reach out to Trading Standards and the police. By cultivating regular two-way communications with local authorities, you can ensure you keep up to date with the latest legislation, reduce crime and improve your store. Says Amit: “At the end of the day, both parties want to achieve the same thing, a safer community.”
Radio schemes in action
Many retailers are seeing the benefit of participating in local radio schemes which aim to prevent theft and anti-social behaviour, and promote crime prevention.
There is a fee to become part of such schemes, but as PC Chris Molnar of Thamesmead Police says: “It’s really beneficial, and although there’s a charge, being a part of it should reduce the retailer’s insurance rate.”
Budgens retailer Adam Hogwood of Broadstairs and Amit Patel of Belvedere Food and Wine, both in Kent, are part of two strong schemes: Thanet Safe Radio Scheme, which has been in operation since 2000; and Bexley Town Safe Radio, which has been running since 2014.
As a member of Thanet Safe Radio, Adam has access to a radio linked to the local council’s CCTV cameras, specific on-duty police officers and other participating shops and pubs. “In the morning you can hear everyone signing in and it’s a great way to build up relationships,” Adam says. “We use the radios to report crime, share information and sometimes even track culprits as the radios have a half-a-mile range.
“The benefit of having the radio linked to the CCTV cameras is that criminals can be traced immediately and this can be fed directly to the police,” says Adam.
The scheme Amit is involved in is also linked to the police and the town’s 246 CCTV cameras, ensuring quick response and the capture of most incidents. Adds PC Molnar: “As well as this, it provides an opportunity for early notification of key individuals or situations arising in a specific area.”