Co-operative have shown that partnerships produce results. Rich Airey reports
Southern Co-op's battle against the bad guys is going from strength to strength. A little more than a year ago the society played a key role in the launch of a successful business crime reduction partnership in Portsmouth. It also more recently earned international recognition for its innovative scheme, Operation Kensington, launched with the city's police and Storewatch. Through the scheme, staff are encouraged to write statements and compile evidence packs with the help of pre-prepared forms which can be passed on to the police to present a case against shoplifters and other criminals.
Relationships with local police officers have flourished and a higher percentage of criminals are being dealt with by the courts. Operation Kensington, which was shortlisted at the prestigious annual Herman Goldstein Awards for Problem-Oriented Policing in the US state of Wisconsin, is expected to expand further this year to other businesses in the area.
Meanwhile, The Portsmouth Business Crime Reduction Partnership (PBCRP) has secured significant financial support from the city council for the coming year. The city's police have also committed to providing a valuable manpower contribution for 2008 to ensure the partnership continues to make a real difference.
Benefits of the PBCRB include membership of a security radio network, access to a database of known offenders, CCTV monitoring by the city council and membership of an exclusion notice scheme banning prolific offenders from entering stores.
Head of loss prevention and compliance at Southern Co-op, Gareth Lewis, who attended the US awards last year, is confident that both the partnership and Operation Kensington, which has already resulted in a 270% increase in the number of crimes solved in some stores, will continue to thrive.
"We jumped at the chance to go to America to see how other countries are dealing with crime," he says. "It was amazing to find that the
problems we face as a retailer here are exactly the same as those in the US and worldwide."
Lewis, who also serves as a director on the PBCRP board, is expecting big things for the partnership in 2008. "We're looking to get as many businesses involved as possible. The police are planning to hold an evening in November where they can present good practice awards to the businesses who have come on board with the concept."
Lewis says a number of relationships have been boosted through formal partnership, and explains: "We've found the local authority and the police are much more open with us now. They're very willing to get involved and discuss our problems and plans. This year we'll really be urging more businesses to get involved."
Operation Kensington has also enabled the society and its store managers to build a much stronger relationship with local police and community support officers. Currently in place in all 22 of its Portsmouth stores, it's set to be extended into neighbouring Havant and Gosport.
Lewis says: "Since arriving back from the States we've met up with Havant and Gosport Police to arrange expanding the scheme. The police have been fantastically supportive. We're constantly working with them in terms of recording data, and new channels of communication have opened up because of the scheme. I'm personally in touch with the volume crime reduction unit as well as a number of senior officers. Staff at the stores also feel happier that there's a better relationship with local officers."
While partnerships will always remain a key component of Southern Co-op's plans to reduce crime in and around its stores, Lewis isn't ignorant of the fact that technology also has to play a major role in cutting crime.
"We use quite a lot of hardware in our stores," he says. "We've got digital CCTV systems in every store and we keep ahead of the criminals by updating our alarm systems
regularly. Our panic alarms are very useful as they're linked directly to the police and provide staff with peace of mind."
The society has also introduced a number of methods to ensure products high on shoplifters' wish lists are more secure. Lewis says: "We've introduced secure merchandising for certain products such as toiletries, coffee, razor blades and beers. Instead of selecting the product from the shelf, the customer takes a ticket from the shelf edge and presents it to the cashier who will select the item from behind the till."
The Co-op is also committed to combating underage attempts to purchase age-restricted goods and is set to embark on a crackdown on proxy purchasing with Trading Standards officers.
Lewis adds: "We have a strict 'No ID no sale' policy. We've stopped selling single cans and reverted to just four packs. We're pretty hopeful that will help. We identified very quickly that the biggest problem wasn't underage kids purchasing alcohol but adults supplying them. There are plenty of people out there who will buy alcohol and sell it on to kids. A can of Stella can be sold for about £1 on the black market."
The Co-op has also run leaflet campaigns targeting adults and containing the strapline, 'What kind of adult buys alcohol for a child?'. "The leaflets were very successful in raising awareness," says Lewis. "We're launching another campaign at the end of April with Portsmouth Trading Standards called ProxyWatch. It will inform adult customers of the repercussions of supplying alcohol to a minor and will invite members of the public to contact a dedicated line run by Trading Standards to inform them of any witnessed instances of adults purchasing alcohol and supplying minors. Other businesses will be approached by Trading Standards and the business partnership to take part in the campaign."
Lewis is confident that campaigns such as ProxyWatch will continue to have a positive effect on reducing crime levels and will cement Southern Co-op's reputation as a responsible retailer.
He adds: "We've found that success comes from working with others, not on your own. It's all about sharing an idea with someone, and that could be your local authority, police officers or traders association. A lot more can be achieved if problems are brought up through a number of businesses. Business crime
initiatives are an extremely valuable tool. They can cost as little as £2 a week for retailers to join. And that's surely a price worth paying."
The power of partnership
Simon Clelland, store manager, New Road Southern Co-op, Portsmouth:
"In my time as store manager I've developed an excellent relationship with the local police and community support officers. Operation Kensington has established guidelines for reporting shoplifting crimes in our stores within Portsmouth and this has produced a positive response from the police.
"We report thefts in the normal way, but then carry out the evidence gathering by writing statements on the prepared forms and copying the incident onto DVD. Every incident is reported and the police can build a body of evidence against persistent shoplifters and high value offenders. It's resulted in a higher prosecution rate and empowered me and my staff. We feel we're taking positive steps to not only tackle crime at the store but also within the wider community."