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How to Reduce Crime in Local Shops and Communities

How to Reduce Crime in Local Shops and Communities

We will hear a lot about crime in this election campaign. This week I gave a keynote address at an event on shop theft and retail crime, attended by the police, some parliamentary candidates and lots of retailers. My main reflection that I want to feed into the rest of the election campaign is that there are two types of conversation that happen when we talk about crime - we need to decide which one we want to centre in this campaign.

Firstly, there’s the rhetoric about the extent of retail crime - the description and quantifying of the problem. This is absolutely necessary for us to understand what’s happening and why it’s so vital that we work to tackle it. We can’t move on to the second conversation without first having this one, but it’s not the end of the discussion and it’s not enough to emerge from that conversation with shoulders slumped and resignation all round or, worse, with cynical actors hyping the rhetoric to win votes.

The second conversation is about what we do to tackle this problem, and it’s a really hard discussion to have because there is no complete solution and whatever mitigations we identify can only be implemented with hard work and focus, not just on the day of a debate in parliament or when we have a meeting in the Home Office but every single day in every single police force across the country. That’s not easy, but it is the conversation we need to be having in this campaign.

What are the solutions we should be focusing on? Thankfully the current government’s retail crime action plan identifies many of these: better reporting from retailers, police attending every time when there is violence used and the perpetrator is still on the premises, investigation of all incidents to identify repeat offenders and implement effective penalties, more use of community interventions, and more effective penalties whether custodial sentences or rehabilitation orders when criminals get to court. Then there are two important measures that were included in the Criminal Justice Bill which fell after the election was called: introducing a separate offence for assaulting a shopworker and using tagging for those who have committed three offences. On all these measures, there’s relative consensus across the parties, so what are the points of difference to consider when you look at manifestos?

Let’s start with resources: there will be pledges on how many police officers a future government would recruit, but also look for where they would be deployed. A focus on neighbourhood policing is good for us because it makes it more likely you’ll have a local officer with whom to build a relationship. From my dealings with senior police officers and those on the ground, and also with Police & Crime Commissioners, the other key area for specific resourcing would be on the use of common reporting systems so that retailers can report crime with one click and the police can share information on a standardised basis to identify repeat offenders and those operating across force boundaries.

Then there’s the courts system: what commitments are made (and which of these do you believe) when it comes to speeding up the courts process and giving the powers required to intervene properly and stop the cycle of re-offending? The part of the system where a renewed focus on tackling retail crime is most likely to fall down is the over-stretched courts system, and if offenders just hit a backlog here all the reporting by retailers and investigation by police will run aground.

We should also look for a set of policies that we often see as distinct from crime policy but I think is a core part of it: enforcement of rules on product standards, underage sales, and legal trading. This is a very different problem to shop theft and violence, but it’s no less important to our membership. In many areas there are shops, white vans and houses selling stolen goods, illegal vapes, non-duty paid alcohol and other illicit product, and the mishmash of HMRC officers focused on the borders, hollowed-out trading standards teams and police with too many competing priorities can’t make a dent when enforcing against these businesses and people. That should concern people who care about the products they buy being safe and sold only by legitimate businesses and it should also concern the politicians who regulate products categories and then see these rules being flouted on an industrial scale. Furthermore this comes full circle because many of the goods stolen from our members shops are re-sold by illegal traders.

Finally, I’d advise retailers to listen to how these pledges are made. Is there a commitment to understanding the detail, thinking operationally, seeing retail crime from the perspective of the colleagues and business owners daily – or is the language about statistics, “sending messages” and simplifying complex issues with myriad deep social causes? Crime, including tackling retail crime, will feature as an election issue and I’m just as interested in how this issue is debated as on what policies are announced.

This entry was posted by Anna onTue, 11/06/2024 - 09:16
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