Assaults on shop workers rise as shoplifters become ‘desperate’

03/08/2020

Today, the Association of Police & Crime Commissioners announced Sussex PCC Katy Bourne as their new National Lead for Business Crime. Mrs Bourne has convened several meetings already with retailers in Sussex and unveiled some staggering home truths about the impact of these crimes and how little is being reported to the police. 

According to a recent survey from the British Retail Consortium assaults on shopworkers have risen by 9% in the last year and this number has only been further exacerbated by the COVID product shortages, strict social distancing measures and now the enforcement of wearing masks in stores. One Southern Co-op Manager has pleaded with people to treat shopworkers with respect. 

Southern Co-op, which runs more than 200 retail stores across the south of England has seen its fair share of business crime. Anne Martin has worked for them in different Sussex stores for the last 20 years, seven as a Store a Manager, and in that time, she has witnessed the devastating impact of theft and threatening abuse made against staff and how this has only worsened during the pandemic. 

She says: We have had staff quit because they just couldn’t cope with the fear of a knife being used against them. Although shoplifting has decreased because we are manning our door at this time, shoplifters have become more desperate because they can’t get easy access to our stock, so we are more likely to be threatened and abused. 

“We have had incidents where shoplifters have used the two-metre rule to steal from us. We have put spirits on the counter, stepped back and they have just grabbed it and run. 

“We also want to enforce the wearing of masks because it is for customer and colleague safety, but we just can’t always police this because we get so much abuse if we try to reason with people. It’s not really our job to be honest, it’s the law and people should just do it. 

“Just because we are not allowed to answer back does not mean that what you say and do to us doesn’t have an impact. We are just doing our jobs and the rules in place are not to be difficult, it’s to protect you and us.”

Over the last two weeks Mrs Bourne has convened several meetings of her Safer Sussex Business Partnership to address the concerns of local businesses and look at the wider picture of business crime. 

This partnership brings together senior police officers, business crime experts, representatives from Tesco, Sainsbury’s and the Co-op as well as representatives of smaller, localised stores, business crime reduction partnerships and security firm Mitie.

She has found that not only have levels of assaults and verbal intimidation increased but that business crime across the whole country is significantly under reported. A recent analysis conducted with a large national chain revealed less than 10% of all their incidents were reported to the police.

There are currently too many barriers to reporting crime for local businesses - including the time spent reporting crimes and the misconception that financial thresholds exist and influence what crimes police will investigate.

Peter Fisher from the National Business Crime Solution said: “Reporting to the police has a productivity cost and current reporting mechanisms could mean up to 20-30 minutes for a member of staff to be away from the shop floor. 

“One large retailer is losing the equivalent of £24k a year in productivity reporting crime. By reducing the amount of time spent reporting, this cost implication will subsequently reduce, and you could really impact how frequently businesses come forward to the police.”

As the new APCC National Business Crime Lead, Mrs Bourne will be using this position to; identify a quick and easy reporting solution for businesses, encourage more local business crime partnerships to be set up to facilitate better intelligence sharing and will work to tackle prolific offenders by introducing prevention and offender management schemes. 

Mrs Bourne says: “The rise in crime against businesses nationally is getting out of hand and unfortunately we have not been able to deploy the most appropriate response in the past because we have never had a clear picture of the problem. 

“Current reporting mechanisms are too time consuming for businesses who are experiencing multiple offences daily and prolific offenders are pushing the boundaries further than ever before. 

“I intend to work closely with business owners, business crime experts, my PCC colleagues, our local forces and the Policing Minister himself to identify ways in which we can innovatively tackle the problem. 

“This pandemic has shown how important our local businesses and their staff are to our communities. Intimidation, verbal abuse and violence of any kind against shopworkers cannot be tolerated.

“I want to identify better ways to tackle prolific offenders by managing their behaviour and preventing further harm.

“Business crime matters, and we must protect our high streets.”

From April 1 2019 to March 31 2020, there were 483 reports of violence against a shopworker made to Sussex Police, an increase of 32% (156 reports) over the previous year