A new Crime Bill may change the way the police enforce the law, but that doesn’t mean retailers should stop communicating with their local force
It’s no surprise that retailers often feel their views about crime and legislation are ignored, and that decisions affecting their business are being made by those with little knowledge of the sharp edge of retailing.
As you read this, the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill is moving through Parliament. As well as changing the powers available to the police to deal with anti-social behaviour and crowd dispersal, it will also have a far-reaching impact on shop theft.
The Bill, which is currently at the Report Stage, was subject to a last-minute amendment which places a £200 minimum value on shop theft before it can be heard in a Crown Court, and would allow offenders to make a guilty plea by post. The amendment was introduced with no consultation, taking the issue out of the hands of those who are most affected.
However, it was challenged by MPs from both major parties, including Priti Patel and David Hanson, with the latter calling for the minimum value to be made £100, closer to the median value of goods stolen (£40).
Both of these MPs spoke out against the Bill because retailers in their constituencies contacted them about their concerns and highlighted the consquences of the changes.
It’s not just MPs that can act on your behalf, either. Police and Crime Commissioners are still in their first year of office and are ripe for engagement, as are the police forces which provide the front line of defence for stores.
Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman says it is vital that stores take the first step to engage with their local force and ensure that officers know you can help them do their job. “The best tool in preventing crime is the quality of the relationship with local police,” he says. “Retailers should seek out local officers and make sure they know about the business and see you as a partner they can work with.
“This is the only way to ensure your crime-related issues are taken seriously. Police have hundreds of competing priorities and you can’t assume they know what your problems are.”
James Ratcliffe of Spar Accrington, Lancashire, agrees that retailers need to forge links with the police. He contacted his local force when youths began loitering outside his previous store in Burnley. “We got in touch with the local force to ask how we could work together to stop this,” he says. “It wasn’t easy at first because the police are so busy, but when they realised that we wanted to help, they were more receptive and their increased presence made a big difference. It takes time, but it all begins with one phone call.”
Sometimes all it takes is getting to know your local PCSO. Veena Odedra of Nisa Sutton Bridge in Spalding, Lincolnshire, has regular visits from her community support officers and the relationship has built up over the four years she has been running the store. “They visit at least once a week and their presence makes the staff feel safer,” she says. “We’re not plagued by crime, but it’s reassuring to have a good relationship with the police in case something does happen.”•
What you can do
• Contact your local force to see how you can help them engage with the community and focus on retail crime
• Arrange a meeting with your local neighbourhood support team to discuss their patrols and organise regular visits to your store
• Meet with other retailers to discuss the crime issues that are affecting all of you
• Organise a meeting with your Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) to determine where retail crime fits into their crime plan
• If you are unsuccessful in meeting the police or PCC, contact your local MP and make them aware of the situation.