Written evidence submitted by the Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (VTR0034)


  1. The Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence to the Home Affairs Committee’s Violence and abuse towards retail workers inquiry.


  1. I am responsible for the largest geographic police force area in England with a resident population on 1.7m. This swells enormously in holiday periods with millions of visitors and tourists as the number one holiday destination in England and Wales. The vast majority of businesses in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly are sole traders, micro businesses or small enterprises often working in the service, agricultural, hospitality & tourism sectors. Partnerships are important but so many of our very small and vulnerable businesses are unable or simply do not have the time to be part of a wider business support network such as an FSB or a Chamber.


  1. My Police and Crime Plan sets out the steps I am already taking to help our business community. This includes my substantial investment in the development of a connected CCTV network across a large number of our towns and cities including central monitoring hubs to reduce the demand and cost on local areas to do this themselves. Since taking office, I have invested nearly £300,000 to support town councils and business improvement districts to establish new or enhanced CCTV systems linked to several central monitoring hubs. These systems are predominantly located in town centre locations meaning they both provide a visible deterrent, and support the police in preventing and investigating ASB and crime including that directed at businesses and retail. I have also funded additional emergency support through my Covid Marshall scheme to help with the pressure of ASB in a Covid Summer.


  1. I have also supported our market town centres by working with the South West Business Crime Centre (SWBCC) to offer free business crime prevention assessments. These independent reports are collated by the SWBCC https://swbcc.co.uk/ in consultation with the Town Council, representatives of the business community and local police. The report sets out a range of options that the town may wish to consider progressing to protect their community further from the risk of crime.


  1. I take the opportunity to offer a number of observations in line with the Inquiry’s terms of reference.



The police response to incidents of abuse and violence towards retail workers


  1. Before a police response can be considered it is important that victims have a straightforward means to report an incident. In my conversations with large supermarket chains, I am acutely aware that they do not report every offence to the police, only those with an aggravating factor. This means we do not have a real picture of all retail crime recorded in our statistics. In my view, years of pushing the responsibility on to businesses to carry out most of the crime recording processes, such as taking statements and supplying the evidence, has diminished this ability to capture intelligence. It often simply gets recorded for internal purposes only. Policing is led by intelligence submissions and crime reporting, without strong and reliable feeds from both – the policing response may not be as thorough as it should.


  1. Major retailers sometimes adopt central reporting practices meaning that the precise location of the offence may not be adequately recorded. Timely and accurate reporting is vital to keep our communities safe. However the major supermarket chains and their local stores remain in the top 10 of our repeat victims of business crime.


  1. Police recording practices may be inconsistent across the country. The revised definition of crime against business adopted by the National Police Chiefs’ Council in May 2019 has caused challenges in recording practices. There is a requirement to manually flag an offence as a business crime in the police recording system meaning there is room for error . This, along with the inconsistent application of the definition, means that crimes of this type are under recorded or inaccurately recorded in policing. The planned introduction of a new crime recording system in our force will help us address this issue.


Very limited take up of local victim services


  1. Victims of business crime are provided with opportunities to complete personal statements and business impact statements. We are about to commence a major recommissioning of our victim service provision in Devon and Cornwall and business victims of crime will be an important element of that new model. We currently have a low take up of employees affected by a crime within a business using our victim care services. As anecdotally the impact on the staff has been diminished by the owner and the push for investigations and a better police response is what they tell me they prefer to have.


The adequacy of the Government’s response to its call for evidence


  1. I welcome the Policing Minister’s renewed focus on business crime and in particular violence towards retail staff. The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) has established a Retail and Business Crime Portfolio under the lead of Katy Bourne (PCC for Sussex). This will bring a clearer link between the work of the National Retail Crime Steering Group and PCCs which has to date been lacking.


  1. It is important that the National Retail Crime Steering Group does not solely focus on the abuse of retail staff in large supermarket chains and employers. Our small businesses are equally open to abuse yet don’t have the support of co-workers around them to step in or help out. It will be important for all sizes of business in the sector to be  adequately protected.



Whether a new aggravated offence is required;


  1. While we have all seen how retail workers have been like an emergency service for us during Covid, being by our side to ensure we have essential supplies I am not convinced of the need for this at this time. My recommendation would be first to prioritise improvements in reporting and recording practices so that we can get a clearer picture of the scale and scope of the problem.


Alison Hernandez

Police and Crime Commissioner

Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly


January 2021