When your store is targeted by shoplifters, or youths intent on anti-social behaviour cause a disturbance, it can be tempting to let the incident go unreported - especially if you feel that the outcome may not match the time and energy you’ll have to put in to make the crime official. Unfortunately, the team at Convenience Store have heard plenty of stories from retailers and their staff who don’t report crimes to the police, for either fear that it may not yield results, or that there will be reprisals on themselves or their staff.
Association of Convenience Stores public affairs director Shane Brennan says that lack of faith in police response is one of the main reasons store staff are unwilling to report crimes. “Retailers are most likely to not report crimes when they believe that they won’t get a response from the police, or feel it is unimportant,” he says. “The crimes that are most likely to go under-reported are those viewed as ‘low level’, such as shop theft or verbal abuse.”
Although it may seem that suffering in silence won’t make any difference, Brennan insists that failing to report crime has implications for the entire retail industry.
“If you don’t report it, it doesn’t get recorded and acted upon,” asserts Brennan. “There is more transparency around crime data than ever before, with crime mapping data available via police.uk. And new proposals in the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill under the Community Trigger mean police and local authorities will be required to respond to incidents of anti-social behaviour if reported a certain number of times.
“If retailers don’t take advantage of these new tools they will be left behind. It is important that retailers record and report all criminal activity against their business as this will support police and local authorities to allocate resources and understand the nature and patterns of criminal activity.”
Scott Jell, manager of Nisa Local in St Dominic’s Square, Bedford, is one retailer who became disillusioned with the police response in his area, even though he previously had a good relationship with the force. “If we caught someone stealing from the store, we would call the police, no matter how small the product was, but the police soon became less likely to come out quickly if it was a low-value item stolen,” he explains.
Scott believes that criminals were also aware that police may not be taking retail crime seriously. “One criminal had more than 260 convictions for shoplifting, but it didn’t bother him. He knew the most he’d get was a night in the cells.”
Thankfully, after a lot of hard work, Scott was able to rebuild a relationship with his local force and he found a way to report crimes that didn’t alienate him from them. “We now report crimes when our police community support officer comes by, rather than phoning as they happen,” he says. “That way all the crimes get recorded and we don’t get frustrated if there’s no rapid police response.”
Brennan advises retailers to make sure staff feel comfortable reporting crimes to both management and the police. “From the outset, retailers should encourage staff to report and record all crime - this should form part of the culture of the organisation and become habitual,” he says. “Retailers should ensure there are clear procedures for reporting crime.”
Not all retailers feel that they have to go it alone, though. Ann Foster of Mace Brandon in Suffolk has built up a strong relationship with her local police force, and as a result receives regular visits from PSCOs and isn’t afraid to pick up the phone to report any crimes that take place in her store.
She says that it’s important that criminals know there will be repercussions. “If the criminals know that the retailer isn’t going to call the police and that they are not going to get charged, they are going to carry on doing it,” she points out.
She urges retailers not to lose heart if the police do not arrive as quickly on occasion. “I understand that the police are busy, but there have been occasions when the time the police took to come when called was farcical, but that doesn’t mean that a retailer should ever stop reporting crimes to them, otherwise the relationship will break down and criminals will realise this.”
Matthew Pout of McColl’s in Grangetown, Middlesbrough, has found a way of helping wary staff report crime. When staff members were previously too afraid to highlight crimes that took place in the store for fear of repercussions, Matthew introduced a number identification system so that their name wouldn’t go on the record, and he would speak to the police for them. “Once staff realised they wouldn’t be named, they were more open about talking about any crimes taking place and much more willing to report them,” says Matthew.
Brennan says that there are some deeper concerns from retailers when it comes to reporting crime, especially from stores that have an ongoing issue with crime. “There have been some incidents where shops have been threatened with licensing reviews for reporting too many incidents,” he says. “This is a distressing and unacceptable situation for a retailer to be in and they should seek to make a complaint higher up the chain to their Police and Crime Commissioner, MP and local authority.” •
• There are plenty of different ways for a retailer or member of staff to report crimes. In an emergency, dial 999, or 101 for a non-emergency
• If you receive regular visits from a local neighbourhood policing team, report any crimes to them. Make sure you have collected all of the necessary facts and evidence. If you don’t receive regular visits from the police then perhaps it’s time to get engaged with them
• Contact your local neighbourhood policing team to find out who patrols your area and how you can get involved to help them to help you
• If you’re already in contact with the force, consider getting in touch with your local Police and Crime Commissioner and put retail crime on their agenda.