Scottish Retail Consortium proposes more effective intervention following 3rd Retail Crime Survey

The Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC), the trade association representing the retail sector in Scotland, launched its 3rd Retail Crime Survey in early January 2005.

Key findings in the survey were:

- The overall cost of crime to the retail sector increased by 37% between 2002 and 2003, largely because of an increased investment in crime prevention measures by the sector itself. The overall cost now stands at £228 million.

- The number of known incidents of customer theft went up from 1,258 per 100 outlets to 3,185, probably partly due to the investment in security resulting in improved detection and reporting.

- The number of known incidents of staff theft also increased, but the number of completed housebreakings and the number of robberies both decreased in 2003.  

- Most worryingly, however, the number of incidents of verbal abuse, threats of violence and actual acts of violence increased dramatically, from 24 per 1000 employees in 2002, to 218 per 1000 in 2003. As the retail sector in Scotland employs 10% of the workforce, this is a hugely significant number of people who are now at risk of threats of violence and actual violence in the workplace.

What the SRC is doing

The SRC is campaigning for the Crown Office to undertake a pilot awareness-raising scheme for procurators fiscal, sheriffs and justices of the peace to gain a clearer understanding of the impacts of retail crime. This would be based on a similar package that is currently being delivered in the north east of England. The SRC hopes that this would result in more effective sentencing and use of restorative justice, and use of disposals such as ASBOs to cut reoffending rates for retail criminals. This would in turn encourage more retailers to report crime to police.

One of the case studies used by the SRC at the launch of the crime survey was that of the first and only ASBO used in Scotland to combat antisocial behaviour in a retail context. The Inverness Safer City Co-ordinator identified one particular shop thief as being particularly prolific. He was well known by Inverness city centre retailers and had been arrested on numerous occasions. An ASBO was successfully pursued against this individual, and as a result the levels of retail crime in the city centre were reduced dramatically.  

This is now an example of best practice on the Scottish Executive’s Anti Social Behaviour Unit website. There is and will be plenty of guidance on the use of ASBOs, but it would be very useful to Safer City Co-ordinators and local authorities across the country to have guidance on how to successfully apply for an ASBO to deal with retail crime and what and how evidence should be presented in order to enforce an ASBO.

Another area of partnership working that is important to the retail sector is with the police. The SRC has encouraged its members to work closely with the police and to report as many incidents of retail crime as possible. However, levels of reporting by retailers to police are still low for a range of reasons, and often depending on the size of the company. It is usually quicker to take the stolen goods off a thief than to hold them and report them to the police. Due to various other demands placed on the police it can take a considerable length of time for police to come to a shop after a call has been made to report an incident. For retailers, this is impractical and expensive in terms of staff time. If an incident is reported, and it proceeds to court, it can result in expensive hours of staff time spent out of the store, so there are wider issues concerning the efficiency of the justice system that need to be addressed.

The Safer City Initiatives in the six cities across Scotland are examples of how retailers are working in partnership with each other, their local authorities and the police, which means that there are higher levels of reporting to police, resulting in higher levels of prosecutions and less offending.  

The SRC will continue to encourage its members to report more incidents, but this is only likely to happen where retailers have strong relationships with police, and when they believe that the justice system will deal with the suspect effectively. The perception that retailers have of the system will only change if they can see that the cases they pursue through the courts result in appropriate sentencing and reduced re-offending rates.

If procurator fiscal staff would like to contact the SRC to arrange a meeting to discuss retail crime and potential ways to combat it, please do get in touch with 0131 226 7925.

The Author
Fiona Moriarty is Director of the Scottish Retail Consortium
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