I’m Peter Webster, chief executive of Corps Security, and this is where I examine the issues affecting the security industry. My thoughts and opinions are intended to generate debate and whether you agree or disagree with them, you’re welcome to post your comments below.
A few weeks ago there was an incident at Corps Security that could have cost us a significant sum of money. Our Chief Financial Officer received an email, purportedly from me, asking how to arrange payment to a third party. Plausible though it sounds, the email was also peppered with pleasantries, so he immediately knew that it couldn’t possibly be from me! After we established that it was an attempt at cyber fraud, we wrote back asking for the name of the person to pay and their bank account details, which were given to us by return. Therefore swift action could have identified the perpetrator through the bank account before it was inevitably closed.
Now at this point we called the police to provide them with this information, so that appropriate action could be taken. Let’s just say that the level of disinterest we were met with was truly shocking. Effectively, we were simply asked to report it so that it could be recorded, and informed that no further action would be taken.
This albeit anecdotal experience is just one example of what appears to be a worrying trend regarding the police service’s desire, or ability, to deal with certain criminal acts. Retail crime is at the sharp end of this policy and the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has expressed its members’ fears that the police regard shoplifting as a ‘victimless crime’, which is not to be taken seriously. To my mind nothing could be further from the truth.
In January, the BRC published details of a study which found that UK retailers recorded an estimated three million offences against them in 2013-14, while the average value of each theft in-store increased by 36 per cent to £241 – the highest level for 10 years. This rise has helped to push up the direct cost of retail crime by 18 per cent to £603m during this period.
Part of the problem appears to stem from The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, which received Royal Assent in March 2014. Section 176 makes theft from a shop of goods worth £200 or less a summary-only offence, which can be considered for police-led prosecution providing a guilty plea is indicated. For some this was seen as going soft on shoplifters and did not take into account that a sum of just £50 can seriously affect a small shopkeeper’s bottom line.
This isn’t a recent problem though. Back in 2013 crime logs revealed police in Birmingham were failing to record or investigate more than 60 per cent of shoplifting offences in the city. Hard to believe I know, but some cases were being ignored because police wrongly believed shoplifting – a criminal offence under the Theft Act 1968 – was a civil offence. It seems that this level of ignorance wasn’t just an isolated case either and despite assurances from the Police Federation that it does take the matter seriously, a growing raft of evidence suggests otherwise to the extent that shoplifting is effectively being decriminalised by stealth.
I appreciate that the police service has witnessed some massive cuts over recent years, having lost nearly 16,000 officers from forces in England and Wales – the equivalent of losing all the police forces in the south west of England. Challenged on the implications of this, Paul Ford, Secretary of Police Federation National Detective Forum, has stated that these issues are affecting the police service’s ability to protect communities and to respond to calls.
It does appear, however, that the issue is as much about resource allocation as it is about numbers of police. Massive amounts of time, manpower and money is put into thwarting the growing terrorist threat and while this is wholly necessary, it is at the expense of what are considered less serious crimes. Unfortunately, it is Joe Public that bears the brunt of such decisions.
My big concern is where this will ultimately lead. Yes, the retail sector is already feeling the effects, but other sectors are suffering too. In my last blog I referenced the fact that during the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Robbery police decided not to respond to an intruder alert issued by the alarm receiving centre. We still don’t know why but it proved to be a very costly mistake.
Equally, those who have had the misfortune to be victims of burglary, vandalism or criminal damage will know only too well that in most cases the issuing of a crime reference number is the extent of police involvement.
It seems that victims of crime are being forced into a position where the only alternatives to police inaction are to launch a costly and time consuming civil legal action, or simply take it on the chin. I’m extremely uncomfortable with both scenarios and believe that the only way to prevent crime paying is to have a robust and effective police service that acts as a deterrent to those with criminal intent. Anything less puts us all in danger.