Retail crime plan
The Home Office has launched Pegasus, a national partnership to counter theft from shops, Mark Rowe reports.
As mentioned in the November print edition of Professional Security Magazine, numerous retailers – such as John Lewis, the Co-op, M&S, Boots, Primark, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Next, B&Q, and TJ Maxx are taking part. They’re putting in £840,000. Pegasus is headed by Katy Bourne, the Conservative PCC for Sussex and business crime lead for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC). Also part of Pegasus is the National Business Crime Solution (NBCS).
For their money, the retailers will get an organised retail crime (ORC) ‘capability’ inside Opal, the police’s national intelligence unit for serious and organised acquisitive crime. Through that unit, retailers can share intelligence on organised crime groups shoplifting, ‘so they can be effectively targeted locally’, according to a document by the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC). That means the central unit will gather info on groups, map and prioritise them, and ‘allocate’ them to local forces for them. Also proposed out of the unit is training for retail on how and what intelligence to send; and a strategic threat assessment, ‘a detailed analysis of organised retail crime, the offenders, modus operandi and opportunities to tackle it’.
It’s proposed that the unit uses facial recognition software to identify the ‘highest threat’ offenders, the NPCC says. As tbhat suggests, CCTV appears central to any action by police; they state that sharing evidence via a DEMS (digital evidence management system) is ‘quickest, most effective and secure’; in other words, preferable to police having to collect data on a disc or memory stick.
As for police attending a shop that’s detained a thief – long a bone of contention on high streets, as retailers at some risk hold an offender, and ring 999, only to be told police cannot attend, or with a delay, which can lead to retailers having enough and letting the thief go. The police in the NPCC document make no promises, saying only that attendance will be ‘prioritised’ in cases of violence. As for when a store’s security staff or others have detained someone, police say they will attend ‘with urgency’, and again speak in terms of priorities. They will treat repeat, prolific or juvenile offenders with ‘elevated priority’.
Home Office Crime and Policing Minister Chris Philp, when hailing Pegasus, said he wanted a new zero-tolerance approach to tackling shoplifting. That echoes a police promise in the summer, hailed by Home Secretary Suella Braverman, that police will investigate all crimes reported to them – where there’s a ‘reasonable line of inquiry’. As for what ‘reasonable’ means, the NPCC document speaks in terms of evidence, whether video surveillance, witnesses, or forensics. The document also is careful to describe police response to organised retail crime in terms of police’s general approach according to ‘threat, risk and harm’; in other words, crime against retail has to take its chances alongside all the other commitments that police have, at any time. Likewise if police attend – whether a shop, or a premises at night after an alarm activation – it’s according to THRIVE (rated in terms of threat, harm, risk, investigation, vulnerability and engagement), rather than any ministerial wish for ‘zero tolerance’.
Chris Philip said: “It is a blight on our high streets and communities and puts the livelihoods of traders at risk. I am determined to drive forward change. While it is encouraging to see a 29 per cent increase in charges for shoplifting in the past year, the rise in offending is unacceptable and there is much more to do to stop it happening in the first place. That’s why we’re taking action and bringing together government, policing and business to commit to smarter, more joined up working when it comes to retail crime, which will help to drive down criminal behaviour and rebuild public confidence in the police response when it does occur.”
Paul Gerrard, Campaigns, Public Affairs and Board Secretariat Director of the Co-op, said: “The Co-op has long called for greater police prioritisation so they tackle the rampant rise in retail crime especially those involving violence or prolific offenders; this is now what happens at present as our colleagues see every day. We, therefore, welcome the commitments in the ‘Retail Crime Action Plan’ to attend incidents of violence, incidents where offenders have been detained and ensure all evidence is collected so every reasonable line of enquiry can be followed. Alongside Pegasus, which the Co-op is helping to fund, we are hopeful that this will mark the point at which the police will provide the support to protect shopworkers and shops so they can help the communities they serve thrive. The Co-op stands ready to work with every police force to ensure our colleagues and the shops they work in can continue to serve their communities.” And Nicki Juniper, Head of Security for the John Lewis Partnership, said: “While there’s no silver bullet for tackling retail crime, we welcome this significant step forward. Retail crime is not victimless, it has an impact on Partners, customers and on prices. We look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with police and others in the sector to keep our partners [workers at John Lewis and Waitrose] and customers safe.”
Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman said that the Plan set a clear marker that the ‘torrent of thefts and other offences’ against businesses will be taken seriously by police forces and the Government. He said: “Convenience retailers are facing unprecedented levels of theft against their businesses at the hands of prolific offenders who are targeting stores repeatedly without fear of reproach. These incidents take a huge toll on retailers and their colleagues, so it’s crucial that every incident reported to the police gets investigated and is something that we have been calling for in conversations with ministers and police representatives.
“Using artificial intelligence to identify prolific offenders can be an effective way of drastically reducing the amount of police time it takes to make links between crimes committed against different businesses locally, and we hope that this will encourage more retailers to submit CCTV evidence of theft when it occurs to help make the link between crimes that have previously been seen as separate offences. Whether its artificial intelligence or local intelligence that leads to criminals being identified, the real challenge still remains apprehending these people and putting in place effective interventions to break the cycle of re-offending.”