Keeping up security can be tough work. Aidan Fortune meets a retailer who is persistent in his fight against crime

Tackling retail crime is a tough challenge, particularly for an independent retailer acting on their own, but Dilip and Fal Patel, who run a Londis store in Clapham Park, London, prove that sticking at it can get results.

Their store at the end of a busy parade, close to a housing estate, suffered from a lack of police presence and a high incidence of anti-social behaviour.

“There were always gangs of kids hanging around,” explains Dilip. “They would cause a disturbance and frighten away customers. They would also dare each other to shoplift in the store.”

He says that even though some members would eventually get bored and move on, there was always someone else to take their place. “There were usually one or two kids who would get others to do it, and if they got too old for it one of the younger ones became the ringleader,” says Dilip.

He adds that the children become so adept that they learnt which days deliveries would arrive and hang around in case they got the chance to pounce. “We had to rotate our main deliveries so there was less of a routine to keep track of,” he says.

The couple decided that they needed to take action and organised a meeting with the police and other businesses in the area. Sadly, not everyone shared their enthusiasm and Dilip was the only retailer at the first meeting in autumn 2010.

Whenever the couple tried to galvanise other retailers on the parade, they were met with apathy. “There was very little community spirit,” says Fal. “As long as crime wasn’t affecting them too badly, they weren’t bothered and wouldn’t get involved.”

Security equipment

Time delay safe

In addition to working with other retailers and the local authorities to protect their store, Dilip and Fal have invested in crime prevention technology in a bid to bolster security at their store.
“A Metropolitan Police crime reduction exhibition highlighted a few small pieces of equipment that can prevent retailers from becoming soft targets,” says Dilip. “For example, a time delay safe means that anyone attempting to hold up your store won’t be able to access the cash for a set period of time. This means that it’ll be such a hassle for any potential thieves that they won’t think it’s worth the risk. This device can cost as little as £100.”Another piece of kit that Dilip champions is magnetic doors that can only be opened by the retailer from behind the counter. “Having these doors means that you have an element of control over who comes into your store,” he points out. “Of course, during busy periods it could get annoying for you, but that’s got to be better than being unprotected.”

Undeterred, the couple continued working with the local police and trying to galvanise support from other businesses, and the gang members were eventually handed crime prevention orders covering the entire parade if they were caught breaking the law. “It used to be the case that if someone was caught shoplifting in one store, they would simply be barred from that one premises and they would move on to another,” says Dilip. “But now if a person is caught at one store that is part of the local Business Watch scheme, they are barred from all of them. It shows a united front from the community.”

Dilip also joined LBAC (Local Businesses Against Crime), which operates throughout London. Its remit is to reduce members’ losses, improve the safety of members, their staff and customers, and support local communities to help promote safer communities.

“It’s perfect because it means that we can speak to the authorities with one loud voice rather than several quiet ones,” says Dilip. “If we show that we are serious about working together to stop crime then they have to take us more seriously.”

He believes more retailers should make use of such schemes. “It’ll get you in contact with other retailers who are concerned about business crime,” says Dilip, “and it’s a good opportunity to share ideas for protecting your business. Another retailer may have something in place that you haven’t thought of.”

LBAC operates the Lambeth Radio Safety Net scheme, which connects retailers via a two-way radio system. “I can keep in contact with other retailers in the area and let them know if something has happened or I see something suspicious,” says Dilip.

Today there is a strong police presence on the parade, which has dramatically reduced shoplifting in the area. “It’s impossible to stop it completely, but it’s under control now,” says Fal. “There are always police officers around and sometimes they set up a checkpoint on the main road opposite the store,” she adds. “It means people know that they’re there and are less likely to try something. Anti-social behaviour has also decreased. Kids no longer hang around outside as they’re moved on by the police.”

The couple record any incident that does take place so they can inform the police when they visit. “Even if we don’t feel it’s necessary to call the police, at least we have a log we can show the local force. It’s the only way it can be acted on.”

Although not everyone along the parade is on board, the couple’s doggedness has got results. “Not everyone is willing to get involved, but there are some who do,” says Dilip. “At least it’s no longer just me at the meetings.” •