Helping retailers stay open for business and closed for crime

Monday, 06 November, 2023

The Essex Police Business Crime Team works with the retail sector across Essex to prevent and deter shoplifting and to help staff stay safe at work.

Essex Police officers made 1,147 arrests for shop theft* in the year to 30 September 2023. And officers solved 514 more offences, a 26.2% increase on the the previous 12 months.

Thanks to the force's business crime officers and their Open for business, closed for crime campaign, retail staff now have more confidence to report theft and anti-social behaviour, says Sergeant Christian Denning.

The team encourages stores to look at their premises through the eyes of a shoplifter, who will ask themselves three questions:

* Does the general shop security appear poor?

* Can I get away with it?

* If caught, will I be prosecuted? 

Sergeant Christian Denning says retailers should consider installing visual deterrents and alarms, changing shop layouts and pursuing prosecutions.

"If a store gains a reputation for being difficult to steal from or for contacting police and assisting with criminal investigations, then that will put off a lot of offenders targeting them in the first place.

"Whether they are an independent or a national chain, we will advise them on building security, where to place tills and desirable products, how to eliminate blind spots, to restrict access to non-public areas and what type of shelving and cabinets hinder thieves.

"Officers will tell staff about types of suspicious behaviour to look out for, while also reminding them that they don't always imply guilt. 

"We also advise stores to clearly state their policies on shoplifting and reporting crime to the police. Knowing that shoplifting could result in prosecution and a criminal record is likely to deter opportunist and younger shoplifters."

The Business Crime Team review every shoplifting case and, where it is believed a criminal behaviour order would be justified to help to protect retailers from repeated abuse and stealing, they work with local officers to apply to the court for them.

"Not only do criminal behaviour orders prevent offenders from entering stores they have been targeting, they can also be issued with conditions which are intended to get offenders support to change their behaviour and prevent further criminal activity," says Sergeant Denning.

"But we can only apply for such orders after a successful prosecution, which will have been supported by evidence provided to us by the retailers themselves."

One of the retail chains business crime officers work closely with is the East of England Co-op. Sergeant Denning says their proactive evidence-gathering and record-keeping assists community policing teams in putting a case together.

"They are quick to share security camera footage with us and to provide statements relating to shoplifting incidents and abuse of staff and they will also share information about prolific offenders targeting their stores.

"It is why a significant number of East of England Co-op stores feature in the criminal behaviour orders we obtain against prolific shoplifters banning them from certain shops."

TownLink radio schemes are another way of preventing shop thefts and anti-social behaviour. There are currently ten schemes in Essex towns and the city of Southend, involving more than 480 users.

Sergeant Denning says: "The TownLink radio system also provides vital reassurance to retailers in towns which have it. They can alert each other to incidents and call the police if they require assistance. We are always happy to hear from councils and business leaders who would support a system being set up in their town."

Will Garrod, operations manager for ShopSafe, which provides and maintains the TownLink service, delivers radio sets to retailers, accompanied by our business crime officers.

Will says: "It's great to launch new TownLink systems. The radios provide businesses with a link to share vital information about local suspects instantly with each other and Essex Police.

"The TownLink systems introduced all over Essex have been a real success and it's great to work alongside Essex Police, who are taking such a proactive approach in addressing business crime."

*Arrests for shop theft. This relates to the number of arrests Essex officers have made. A person may have been arrested more than once for theft from a shop during the time period and nd they may have been arrested for more than one offence.

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