Mark Wingett reports on a retailer who’s on a mission to combat crime across two local communities.

In the film Multiplicity, Michael Keaton plays a character who clones himself several times to stay on top of the problems in his hectic life and all the jobs he has to carry out.

Retailer Kishor Patel, who runs two convenience stores in Luton, Bedfordshire, has no such powers but he has managed to impose his character so forcefully on his stores and the communities they serve so as to appear that he could indeed be in at least two places at one time.

In the 18 years since Kishor opened his first store on the Houghton Regis estate, he has been here, there and everywhere building the confidence of his staff, the respect of his local community and the security of his store.

He says: “When I first got the survey report back on the store in Houghton Regis, it confirmed what I had suspected, that store security was going to require a great deal of investment.

“The area was a known trouble spot, and there would often be gangs from other estates coming here to start fights and run riot. “When I took on the store, it was a case of stamping my mark on it and winning the respect of the local community and building up the confidence of my staff to better communicate with customers and handle any problems in-store.”

Seven years ago, Kishor purchased a second store, on the nearby Borehamwood estate, and adopted exactly the same approach to winning friends and influencing people. INTIMIDATION
Over the years Kishor, his staff and his stores have been the victims of racial abuse, shoplifting, intimidation, threats, assaults, robbery and burglary.
Kishor’s approach has been to concentrate on each incident separately, making sure his staff are well aware of what is expected of them.

With a pub opposite the Houghton Regis store, Kishor decided to prioritise tackling under-age drinking and alcohol sales. He says: “At first, I had to give my staff the confidence to ask people for ID and also to refuse sales. What we do is take the alcohol that is being purchased, put it in a bag behind the counter and then ask for ID. That way the customer can’t just grab the item and run off. “We have a strict policy of ‘no ID, no sale’ for alcohol and other age- related products. We even ban adults if they make a purchase for a minor, which does lead to some abuse and also a loss of custom, but it does send out a clear message to other customers, and all the local residents approve of our stance on alcohol sales.”

BANNING ORDERS
Like the majority of retailers, Kishor also has to deal with shoplifting and anti-social behaviour. He says: “Problems like anti-social behaviour and shoplifting can severely erode our profit margins - either through theft or deterring genuine customers from visiting my stores.”

He takes serious measures to combat shoplifters, including investing in the most up to date CCTV equipment, store layouts, banning orders and staff training.

He believes a common-sense approach to tackling the problem is vital in gaining the support of local police. Kishor says: “The police treat shoplifting and anti-social behaviour as petty crimes, so they’re just not on their list of priorities. As retailers, we need to take positive action to prevent these incidents occurring as best we can and within the law. “There is no point going to the police with every chocolate bar that is stolen. If you are going to call them, then make sure it is for a serious offence or a persistent one.”

The quality of the evidence you can provide to the police is also key in gaining their support, according to Kishor. “If the police, with whom we have a good relationship, are to attend to a crime at your store, you will need to give them enough hard evidence as possible and be committed to helping them to the full with their enquiries.

“Added to the CCTV evidence we can provide, my staff are told to note every detail on the offenders and record them in a log book,” he says.

Kishor takes the same stance with cases of anti-social behaviour, although when it comes to younger offenders, he tries to talk to their parents where possible.

He says: “I have used and will continue to use banning orders and exclusion notices to stop people entering the store or loitering outside. But if I can, I will approach the parents of the younger offenders. “The parents usually haven’t got a clue what their kids have been up to, but when they are made aware, it tends not to happen again.” Kishor is far more able to approach the parents of troublemakers through his support of local community activities: he sponsors the local school football team, donates to local charities and helps out at the local fête.
Kishor says: “Over the 18 years I have been here, I have seen whole families grow up and managed to get know most of them. It is only the minority now that we need to combat to make this area safe for all.”

Kishor has already put into motion a series of meetings between local retailers, council representatives and members of the local police with the objective of setting up a crime and disorder reduction partnership for the Houghton Regis area.

TOMORROW’S OFFENDERS
He explains: “In the groups of youths that cause anti-social behaviour there are offenders and watchers who are likely to be tomorrow’s offenders. “I would say between my two stores there are about a dozen or so offenders, and those are the ones who are causing the trouble and leading the rest. “I have put forward the formation of a Safer Houghton committee, which can meet to look at various angles to tackle this problem.”

Kishor believes every part of the community, from retailers to local police and youth groups, has a major part to play in bringing the committee to life and working toward, as he puts it, “a safer Houghton for everyone”.
To make sure that the project is a success you can be sure that Kishor will be pushing for action all of the way.