VTR0014

Written evidence submitted by the Central England Co-operative (VTR0014)

 

[Note: This evidence has been redacted by the Committee. Text in square brackets has been inserted where text has been redacted.] 

 

Overview.

  1. Central England Co-operative trades across 16 counties in the central England area, employing just under 8,000 colleagues of which over 5,000 work across 262 stores within our Retail business.

 

  1. During the course of the last several years, violent and abusive incidents have continued to increase towards our colleagues. These rises are mainly driven by two specific areas: Theft and the sale of age restricted products. During the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, incidents of violent and verbal abuse increased significantly, placing our colleague’s safety at a higher risk than during a normal year.

 

  1. During the same time, policing numbers have reduced, and this has limited support for our colleagues. Reporting a crime to the police can be a lengthy process through either 101 or the online reporting channels. Colleagues feedback that they do not experience enough benefit from reporting the crime in comparison to the length of time it takes to report. When an incident of verbal of violent abuse is reported by our colleagues, on occasions, they have been provided with an appointment time to crime the incident or a text message requesting CCTV as the offenders have left the scene.

 

  1. The Government’s response to the call of evidence was welcomed by all, but more needs to be done to introduce a specific law. This will create and promote a culture throughout society that verbal and violent incidents against retail workers are unacceptable.

 

  1. Central England Co-operative, violent crime comparison 2019 v 2020

 

 

2019

2020

Increase/decrease

Assaults

106

144

35.80%

Verbal Abuse

259

693

167.50%

Threats and Intimidation

415

485

16.80%

Anti-Social Behaviour

236

329

39.40%

COVID

0

312

N/A

 

Three key areas have emerged as triggers for violent and abusive incidents towards our colleagues.

Theft

  1. Shoplifting, in line with violence, has been increasing year on year. Due to the increasing numbers of theft and the direct link with violence towards colleagues, Central England Co-operative adopted a non-confrontational approach to shop theft. This was to deter theft from occurring whilst reducing the risk of a violent reaction from an offender.

 

  1. The root cause of theft and shoplifting offences are often as a result of offenders funding an addiction, and the subsequent lack of consequences of doing so. Central England Co-operative supports an offender to rehab programme with West Midlands Police force to support and tackle this in our West Midlands region.

 

  1. As police forces make reductions to the number of officers, some forces across our trading estate began imposing monetary limits to the value of a theft before police attended a store and investigated an incident. This is widely known within the public domain and, with some thresholds being as high as £200, there was no longer a consequence for committing a theft against a retailer and would-be criminals were committing crimes more frequently. As a convenience retailer the threshold was very rarely exceed and therefore made colleagues question if they should be reporting the incident to the police.

 

  1. Offenders, therefore, know that committing a theft below the threshold, and becoming violent or verbally abusive in a store, would result in them being able to take what they desired, without any consequence for their actions. This is most identifiable in offenders who are committing a crime to fund an addiction.

 

  1. The Call for Evidence, which was released in July 2020, stated that this would be picked up and Chief Constables along with PCCs would be advised to investigate these types of crimes, even if they fall below a set value. However, this does not change the mindset of the offender and this is not as publicly known as when the thresholds were imposed, this results in there is still a public perception that police will not attend and investigate lower-level thefts.

 

Age Restricted Sales

  1. Age restricted sales is another tigger in which our colleagues are subjected to violent and verbal abuse.

 

  1. As a responsible retailer, we take our commitment to enforce these laws within our stores seriously, to ensure that we do no sell ARS products to those who are not of age or those purchasing items on behalf of a juvenile. We adopt a challenge 25 policy, which requires our colleagues to ask for the ID of any customer that appears under the age of 25. These challenges create a number of violent and verbally abusive situations for our colleagues in stores.

 

  1. Colleagues wear badges advising customers of our policy and that they may be required to produce ID if they appear under the age of 25, signage is also located throughout the stores – this however does not deter the constant abuse directed towards our colleagues carrying out their job, in accordance with the law, as, again, offenders do not see a consequence to their actions and therefore walk out the of the store believing that their behaviour is acceptable.

 

  1. In addition, the refusal of alcohol sales to those who are already under the influence can also causes a heightened degree of violence and abusive incidents towards our colleagues.

 

Covid-19

  1. During the Covid-19 pandemic, a number of measures were imposed within retail stores to ensure the safety of our customers and our colleagues. Limits on the number of customers within the store, one-way systems and social distancing were among the measures put in place and all were managed by our store colleagues. All the advice in stores was provided with signage and media messages to help customer understand why we had the restrictions in place.

 

  1. Whilst the majority of customers understood the reason these restrictions had been placed into stores, 312 incidents were reported where offenders had become violent or verbally abusive towards our colleagues as a result of these restrictions. These incidents ranged from not social distancing in stores, not following one-way systems and threatening to spit/cough at our colleagues, in the hope that they caught Covid-19.

 

Reporting of Crime.

  1. Colleagues are encouraged to report all incidents of violent and verbal abuse to the police and are fully supported by the Society in this process and attends court with them when required.

 

  1. Feedback from our retail teams on barriers to reporting cite the length of time this takes, and that they do not see a benefit to reporting crime. Calling 101 to report a crime can take up to one hour to speak with a call handler. Reporting online is a quicker process but is not providing colleagues any reassurance that the crime is being investigated and that the offender is brought to justice. Also, collecting and submitting evidence can take a number of weeks to provide to the investigating officer using the current processes in place.

 

  1. We have also had locations across our trading estate that have received visits from local officers investigating the number of crime reports being submitted by the store. On occasions, the store has been advised that its trading the licence will be reviewed if the rate of crime continues at the same level. Fortunately, no enforcement has been taken regarding these investigations, but this makes our colleagues question if they should be reporting crime.

 

  1. As mentioned above, when a verbal or violent incident occurs, colleagues are provided with an appointment time and date to complete a statement as the offender has left the scene. This action does not provide the colleague with the reassurance they desire that the offender will be dealt with. There is also a concern that during the time from when the offence occurred, until the point the officers arrive, the offender could return to the store and continue to be abusive.

 

  1. Colleagues tell us that victim impact statements following an assault or violent incident are not generally offered by the police during the course of the investigation. We are encouraging colleagues to request.

 

  1. When a violent, verbally abusive incident or crime in progress is reported, colleagues are advised to contact 999 and report all these incidents.

 

  1. Case Studies on reporting and barriers (Sept20 – Dec20)

 

New law / aggravated offence

  1. Central England Cooperative has invested in a number of security improvements within our stores to ensure colleagues remain safe whilst at work. Along with this Central England Cooperative have run a successful PR campaign advising would be criminals ‘it is not worth the risk’. The new measures introduced are.

 

  1. Whilst we continue to invest in such measures and support to our colleagues, a specific law is required to protect shopworkers from this type of abuse. This should provide strict sentencing guidelines for when a retail worker is violently or verbally attacked or assaulted in their line of work. Only then will would-be offenders get a sense of the consequences for the crime they intend to commit.

 

  1. As mentioned previously, there should be a significant consequence to these types of crimes and the public must be educated that these offences are not acceptable within retail stores. This education piece needs to be supported and endorsed by Government, the PCC’s, local police forces and retailers to ensure all the above mentioned are aligned in their roles and responsibilities.

 

  1. Violent and abusive case studies (Jul20 – Dec20)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

             

 

 

  1. All these incidents were reported and investigated by the local police forces. However, these incidents and the frequency in which they occurred, demonstrate that there is little in the way of a deterrent to these offences due to the lack of consequence. Colleagues unfortunately deem this this type of abuse as ‘part of their jobs’ which is unacceptable.

 

January 2021