A collaborative approach to fighting retail crime is getting results in towns and cities across the UK. Aidan Fortune looks at such schemes and why it is more important than ever that retailers work together

The retail sector can feel like a lonely one at times. That gang of youths loitering outside your store has become a permanent fixture, and the latest spate of shoplifting is eroding a fast diminishing bottom line and you feel powerless to control it. But remember that saying, strength in numbers?

There are plenty of retailers around the country who are pooling resources with others and sharing their information on crime, and in doing so are building stronger relationships with their local police force and showing a united front against criminals in their area.

Dilip Patel of Fal’s Londis in Clapham, South London, knows more than anyone else how important it is to create a partnership with other retailers. His store, and others on his local parade, were under the constant threat of anti-social behaviour and shoplifting. Fed-up with having to suffer in silence, Dilip arranged meetings with the police and other local businesses to see what could be done. At first take-up to this Business Watch initiative was slow, but eventually more and more businesses got involved and the results started to stack up.

“The Business Watch scheme enables us to show a united front against crime,” explains Dilip. “Since we set up the scheme two years ago, shoplifting and antisocial behaviour have both reduced dramatically.”

Raj Aggarwal of Londis Wigston in Leicestershire also works with nearby retailers in an attempt to curb crime in his area. He agrees that it was tough at first to get fellow retailers on board with the idea. “They were so focused on seeing other retailers as competition that they were unwilling at first to get involved,” he says. “All retailers have to put aside pride and work together, or else we’re fighting on our own.”

Dilip’s partnership relies on constant communication between members. With busy retailers involved, this isn’t always easy, but a simple two-way radio has proved the easiest solution. “We stay in touch as much as possible through the radios as it allows us to communicate quickly and easily,” he says. “If I see someone acting suspiciously, I can get in touch with the other members straight away.”

Dilip believes that all small stores could benefit from joining such a scheme. “It’s better to be able to nip crime in the bud than just react, and being a member of a partnership is the best way to do this,” he says.

“Start by talking to other retailers in your area and find out how crime is affecting them. Then contact your local police together to arrange a meeting so that you can all air your issues and see what you can do to help them to protect you.”

Raj agrees that a group approach is the best way to show any would-be criminals that you mean business. “Rather than fighting the battle on your own, you can show a united front within the community and it helps when speaking to police and authorities if there is an issue,” he says.

One route for retailers looking to work together to curb crime is to set up an official Business Crime Reduction Partnership (BCRP) that is managed by a dedicated person, rather than the store owners doing it themselves. As William Price of Action Against Business Crime points out: “A store owner can manage a partnership and that works at first, but then their everyday business diverts their attention.

“It’s much better to have a full or part-time manager, funded through membership fees, who can give it the attention it needs to be productive.”

The BCRP in Brighton and Hove, East Sussex, has been in operation for 12 years and boasts 480 members, most of them independent retailers. Partnership manager Lisa Perrett believes that getting involved in a partnership is vital for retail businesses. “Shops need to work together and share information on crime - it’s the only way that we can fight it,” she asserts.

The Brighton and Hove Partnership costs as little as £8 a week for members, but the benefits far outweigh the costs, its organisers say. “According to our statistics, members of the Brighton and Hove BCRP have seen a 33% reduction in stock loss since they joined,” says Perrett.

As well as meeting with members regularly, the partnership distributes lists of recent offenders, keeps track of those with an ASBO, and liaises with the local police force to discuss recent offences. Perrett says this has become particularly important as the police face funding cutbacks.

“The local police force has come to rely on the partnership more, as they can better act on crimes with more information,” she says.

Price agrees that this is a key benefit of partnerships. “The vast majority of business crime doesn’t get reported to the police, because retailers feel it’s not worth it. But if several businesses come together, there is a greater chance of them being heard.”

Those involved in partnerships also believe they act as a deterrent to would-be criminals. “There is the opportunity that if caught they will be banned from all stores in the partnership, which acts as more of a deterrent,” points out Price.

Dilip says this has certainly been a benefit of his scheme. “Before, if they were caught, they would be barred from one store and then just move onto another, but now they’re banned from all stores taking part in the scheme,” he says. “It’s a much stronger deterrent.” •