Written evidence submitted by Anonymous (VTR0025)
The police response to incidents of abuse and violence towards retail workers & Barriers to the reporting of incidents of violence or abuse.
- As a high street coffee retailer, we frequently experience incidents of what is seen as low-level crime in our cafes i.e. anti-social behavior, abuse of facilities by individuals under the influence of alcohol or drugs, low-value product theft, theft of personal belongings etc.
- It is apparent that these types of incident can be viewed as minor as the values involved from a loss perspective are relatively low per incident Vs retailers of higher-priced merchandise for example however, the impact that incidents have on the wellbeing & mental health of our store staff is paramount due to the verbal abuse and threat of violence or harm that normally accompanies such incidents.
- Store staff in certain areas are in some cases working in an environment of fear of attending their workplace due to the frequency of incidents (in a lot of cases by the same perpetrators) as retail crime is not seen as a priority for police attendance, especially if the offenders have left the scene or the value of product involved is low rather than considering the fear & distress of harm that has been levied against store teams.
- It appears that even incidents that escalate to an immediate call for police support can go unanswered due to the severe constraints that are faced by the constabularies up and down the country.
- We are supportive of all the work that the police already does and are only too aware of the pressures upon them due to the reduction in numbers and funding and as and such, we have invested heavily in CCTV & digital technology in all of our stores that enables immediate support to be requested by way of incident support buttons that connect to a 24/7 alarm monitoring centre to allow remote connectivity of CCTV cameras to view live activity, to make audio announcements on site to address the offender/s and ultimately the summoning of police support if a situation continues to escalate.
- The purpose of this technology is to enable our store teams, with the help of the alarm monitoring centre personnel, an opportunity to diffuse situations and avoid the need for police attendance if possible and only call the police if the incident escalates to a serious level and there is a fear of immediate danger to the personal safety of staff and customers.
- The CCTV technology also allows us to easily share evidence of crimes (and the offenders involved) remotely, avoiding the need for physical collection from venues by police staff.
- Unfortunately, there are several barriers that contribute to the failure to report incidents of violence or abuse including the difficulty in being able to easily report an incident and the regularity of police not being able to attend or follow-up in any way after an incident.
- We support the recommendations of ringfencing some of the new 20k Police Officers specifically for retail crime, so those officers could focus on organised violent gangs and bringing a small number of professional criminals to justice could significantly reduce the harm to the industry and public. We also encourage Police and Crime Commissioners to make specific provision in their Police and Crime plans to support the response to retail crime and the protection of retail staff against violence and abuse in the workplace.
Barriers to justice for victims of retail abuse and violence.
- Regrettably, we often hear that violence and abuse in the workplace is seen as part of the job and incidents are not reported as the perception is that nothing happens anyway.
- Our store teams have regularly fed-back that it is too time consuming and complicated to report incidents of verbal abuse and threats of violence and furthermore what is the point if the police only decide to take no further action, especially against perpetrators that live in the same area as the store and/or store employees.
- There appears to be a lack of use of an aggravated offence for public facing workers and we urge a review of the Sentencing Council Guidelines to include a new offence of violence towards retail workers that would make the crime clear to everyone – Criminal Justice System, police, victim and offender.
- We also support the appropriate funding of the Criminal Justice System, so that the courts have the resources needed to process cases, we are all too aware of the backlog of cases currently.
Whether a new aggravated offence is required.
- There is an impression that violence against retail staff is not necessarily seen as a serious offence and may not be charged or prosecuted appropriately and often downgraded to a lesser offence.
- We agree with the strong perception throughout the industry that beyond the police there are several areas of the Criminal Justice System that could benefit from improvement and encourage a comprehensive review of Out of Court Disposals for offences where there has been an element of violence and abuse reported.
- We hope that the consideration for a new specific offence of statutory aggravation of assaulting a retail worker can be progressed as we believe this would also drive improved reporting as retail staff would be encouraged to report assaults.
The adequacy of the Government’s response to its call for evidence.
- We are pleased & encouraged that the report recognised that violence and abuse can impact mental health as well as physical wellbeing.
- The Government response acknowledged the need for an improved police response to incidents of violence to retail colleagues, which is something both retailers and the BRC has long called for.
- We will continue to support the campaign to introduce a specific offence for attacking shop workers as there is no substitute for the message that a change in the law would send.
- As a major food & beverage retailer we are very happy to support in whatever way we can to enable better recording of statistics and a better police response to make the retail space a safer environment for all.