Last November a special crime prevention seminar was held at the police divisional headquarters in Perth. About 30 members of staff from the Sands group's Perth stores heard views of crime from both sides of the fence.
Local crime prevention officer Constable Douglas Campbell gave tips on preventing shoplifting and enhancing staff safety, and Charlie Hamilton, security manager at David Sands, spoke about due diligence, licensing issues and the importance of CCTV.
Hamilton knows a thing or two about policing, having clocked up 32 years' experience, ending his career in the force as Detective Superintendent. He spent nine years in the Scottish Crime Squad and has been in retail security for seven years.
He is also a volunteer with the local Victim Support group. But after 32 years, he's still taken aback by the amount of retail crime that goes unreported.
"Every other day someone gets caught for big theft," he told C-Store. "We've invested heavily in security equipment but we wanted to look at what else we could do to tackle the problem. We tried to demonstrate to the police that we're a family business because they saw us as a big employer - we knew which buttons to press but we weren't getting any favours."
The seminar held at Tayside police station has helped to turn this relationship around. "We were all invited into the police station and the chief superintendent gave a presentation, which he had personalised for local stores," says Hamilton. "It was clear he knew the problems we face and the staff felt encouraged by that. Now we have a great partnership and if we say it's urgent, they're there quickly."
David Sands has invested heavily in digital CCTV to improve the quality of evidence against criminals, and is finding Anti-Social Behaviour Orders effective in tackling vandalism and abuse. "ASBOs are the way forward for c-stores," says Hamilton.
"We have adopted the practice now that when someone is banned from a store for repetitive anti-social behaviour, we confirm the ban in writing but also copy the letter to the police and the Anti-Social Behaviour investigation team. If the individual concerned is involved with similar behaviour elsewhere, the police can also take into account our evidence.
"There is no doubt that we have to continually engage in meaningful dialogue with the police and the local authority Anti-Social Behaviour teams so that they understand the overall damage being caused to business and not to see each act of shoplifting or vandalism in isolation," adds Hamilton. "The problems caused by retail crime and anti-social behaviour require a joint approach and I firmly believe that the legislative powers given to local authorities working in conjunction with the police and the retailers will, in time, make a significant difference."
While Hamilton accepts that there is no quick fix, the Perth stores are already seeing benefits from this joint approach and the November seminar. But, he says, each partner in the venture has to face up to its responsibility. "At David Sands, we continue to invest heavily in the latest digital CCTV systems, together with intensive staff training in all aspects of retail security.
"A major focus of the training continues to be due diligence in relation to under-age sale of alcohol. All our stores are community-based and we have no intention whatsoever in being associated with alcohol-related misbehaviour by youngsters."
Hamilton also encourages other retailers to take a leaf out of their book. "The convenience trade should be driving the local authorities and police to treat us seriously," he says. "Each wee act, day in, day out, gets the staff down. And customers feel too intimidated to come to our shops at night, so that's costing us trade. Convenience stores need some good joined-up thinking with local authorities and the police.
"If we work together we can make the community safer. We're not just protecting ourselves, we're being good community neighbours. We are community-based and provide a lot of services - there's a lot more to these shops than making money for the business. They've got to be a warm, safe and welcoming place to come into, but folk and staff are frightened to shop or work at night."
The Sands group is continuing dialogue with other forces and local authorities and hopes to run other seminars. Hamilton adds: "There's no reason why we couldn't have all c-stores joined together to fund it - we're not competitors in fighting crime."
Points of view
Ian Black, store controller
"I've been involved in the convenience trade for 30 years and the November seminar was the first time I had taken part in a joint venture of this nature with the police. The seminar at Police Headquarters in Perth allowed us to share with the police the operational and staffing difficulties caused through theft, vandalism, staff intimidation and general anti-social behaviour.
"The police demonstrated that they, too, have operational difficulties at certain times of the day. However, there is no doubt whatsoever that the advice to our staff at the seminar, along with the ongoing operational support from Tayside Police, has made life much easier both for the staff and the running of the business.
"Of course, we still suffer from theft and anti-social behaviour in various forms but we do see that things are getting better. This has given the staff more confidence, knowing that robust police support is on hand.
"Importantly, we have more time to focus on what we do best, and that is serving the communities and meeting the needs of customers."
Lorraine Ritchie, store manager
"The managers and staff felt that the police were listening to the problems we encounter. There is no doubt that when police officers attend the stores they have a better understanding of the aggravation and distress caused by thieves and troublemakers. All crimes reported by us are reported by the police for prosecution and we are starting to feel that we are no longer a soft target.
"All people reported to the police are automatically barred from the stores and their photographs from the CCTV system are posted in staff rooms."
Matt Hamilton, chief superintendent, Western division, Tayside Police
"I am in no doubt that my officers are more aware of the concerns of staff working hard in convenience stores. Staff clearly experience a minority of difficult customers, some of whom may be intent on committing a crime. Therefore, it is very important that they are clear about their role and the most efficient way in which to contact the police. It is also important for all of us that criminals are detected for the crimes they perpetrate.
"Prevention is equally, if not more, important and I was impressed by the considerable thought given to securing evidence, risk-assessing staff roles, and training provided by David Sands to give that level of confidence to staff. The seminar was a first for Tayside Police and was very important in terms of highlighting the issues experienced by retail staff at the front end. It was very useful because it allowed some of my staff at the front end to share experiences and talk through strategies for designing out crime."