Violence and abuse towards retail workers Contents

2The policing response

39.In the first part of this chapter we will examine the policing response to incidents of violence and abuse against retail workers. We will discuss evidence which suggests retailers lack confidence in the police response and the perception that retail crime is ‘low priority’; we will look at the vicious cycle of underreporting for these offences. In the second part of the chapter, we will discuss proposals for how the policing response could be improved. This will cover: prioritisation of retail crime by police forces, improving crime recording practices and partnership working with local communities to tackle repeat offending.


A crisis of confidence

40.There is evidence to suggest that a significant proportion of retail businesses and retail workers have lost confidence that the police will respond to incidents of violence and abuse or that perpetrators of these crimes will be brought to justice. The ACS 2021 Crime Report found that:

41.The BRC 2020–21 Crime Survey found that 60% of retailers rated the police response as “poor” or “very poor.” However, this showed an increase in satisfaction from 2019–20 when 70% of retailers rated the police response as “poor” or “very poor.” The police’s approval rating was lowest in 2017–18 with 80% of participants in the survey rating the police response as “poor” or “very poor” that year. The last time any of the BRC’s members gave an excellent rating was in 2012–13: 8% of respondents rated the police response excellent and only 25% rated the response “poor” or “very poor”.80

42.The majority of evidence submitted to this inquiry reflected dissatisfaction with the policing response to retail crime. A survey by the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, conducted over the summer of 2020, found “a frightening lack of confidence in the police response” with 50% of respondents saying they did not bother reporting thefts in their shops to the police.81 Paul Gerrard told us that the Co-op “only report the most serious offences to the police” but “two times out of every three” the police did not attend even for those serious offences.82 He described the following incident:

An individual came in at 5 o’clock in the afternoon wanting to buy more paracetamol than you are allowed to, was refused, made threats, began to get aggressive and abusive, assaulted people, was removed from the store, stayed outside the store and then made personal threats against the female manager. My colleague called the police and heard nothing back until the next day when they rang to see if everything was okay… the police do not come even when there is a threat to the life of a woman at night.83

43.He concluded that “I cannot overstate the position of my colleagues in the Co-op that, at the minute, the police and the courts do not care.”84 Dunelm Soft Furnishings told us that “it has reached the stage now that unless we dial 999 or press our Personal Attack Buttons store colleagues are left to take the abuse and threats until the abuser gives up and leaves the store”.85 The British Retail Consortium said a key driver for this lack of confidence is the frequency with which potentially serious crimes are “NFA’d” (no further action taken) by the police. They obtained data from a Freedom of Information request which showed that across over 800 reports to the Metropolitan Police, 85% were NFA’d and only 9% charged.86 Iona Blake, speaking on behalf of Boots UK, gave the following example:

A pharmacist was struck to the floor twice in the face and then spat on several times while the offender was trying to steal goods. That individual was known, was named and has not yet been arrested several months later. There has been no further action. As far as the colleagues in the store are concerned, the case has been closed.87

44.Stakeholders were particularly frustrated by the policing response with regards to repeat offenders. We heard even “when colleagues report persistent offenders, where they are known and CCTV and witness evidence is available” there is a “reluctance in taking any action” and “it is as if the officers don’t know what action to take.”88 The ACS said that “repeat offenders are often not only known to retailers but also the police, other businesses, housing associations and other sectors experiencing violence in the community”; they estimated that 63% of offenders are repeat offenders.89 Sainsbury’s told us:

Stores are plagued by ‘repeat’, ‘regular’ offenders who habitually instigate violence and abuse towards our colleagues. More than half of the violent incidents that occur in our stores are carried out by known offenders and banned shoplifters. Many of them targeting our stores are known to have violent tendencies or carry weapons such as knives and needles, making colleagues feel scared to enforce banning procedures.90

45.On the other hand, some of our stakeholders presented a more positive picture of the policing response. Wickes said that of the 241 incidents it had reported to police since 2014, 68% were subsequently responded to and supported and 16% led to an arrest and prosecution. They told us that “we have historically been happy with the levels of police response” but have noticed that “as the number of cases has steadily risen, the police response rate has not”.91

Figure 4

Source: Wickes (VTR0010)

46.Pets at Home told us that the “response from police forces across the UK has been reasonably well received” and “in the majority of cases it is evident that the police want to do a good job and in numerous cases often do.”92 However, they described significant inconsistencies in the response between police forces:

Some forces have attended the scene and investigated allegations promptly, have provided follow up detail where required and often made arrests. This has reassured our retail colleagues that the behaviour they have experienced is not going to be tolerated and that we as a business, and their local police force will support them through what is a very stressful and potentially dangerous situation. Other forces however, have been extremely slow to react to serious incidents such as physical assaults, or have shown very little interest helping out with others.93

47.Pets at Home said that they thought where the response was poor it was because “resource has to be prioritised and it seems as though retail is less of a priority.”94 Tesco told us that while its central teams have a constructive relationship with the police, in some local areas the responsiveness of the police “is not consistently positive”. They described instances where their employees “have felt that their concerns and calls for support have not been answered in good time” or that “incidents are not followed up, or progressed through the legal system effectively” which can lead to a lack of a clear consequences for the offender.95 Iona Blake, representing Boots UK, also told us that the “consistency of police response across all 43 police forces absolutely needs to be addressed”.96 However, the Nationwide Building Society said that in their experience “the police have overwhelmingly been helpful and efficient when dealing with instances of abuse in branch, both at first response, and during subsequent investigation of potential offences”. They told us “the issue is not the police response” but the “current sentencing guidelines” which do not recognise retail workers as “targets for abuse”.97

48.Violence and abuse towards retail workers takes many forms, from verbal abuse and threats to grievous bodily harm. There is an acknowledgement in the evidence from retailers that an immediate police response may not be appropriate in all cases. However, it is clear that stakeholders do not think the police are currently prioritising retail crime appropriately. Joanne Cairns, USDAW, told us:

We have been told that sometimes workers have been advised to ring the non-emergency 101 number for any incident of a retail crime, even while the crime is still taking place. There needs to be clear guidance that those crimes should be treated as an emergency when it is an emergency situation, particularly when there is potentially a threat to people of physical assault. We understand that the police do not necessarily have the resources to send the emergency response to every single incident of abuse, but there needs to be some dialogue between retailers and the police, obviously involving the workers as well, about what an appropriate response should be to different types of incidents.98

49.Wickes told us “the police themselves are to be considered a barrier to justice” because they do not think “low level volume crimes” are “serious enough to deploy resource”.99 Morrisons said there are a number of “minor retail-setting crimes” which they understand would draw police resources unnecessarily from more important work but that “physical and verbal assaults on shopworkers” should never fall into that category. They told us that there are numerous examples of both types of incidents when the police have failed to attend or have attended in the following days long after the offenders have left the premises.100 Dixons told us that the “complete non-response” to the majority of incidents of verbal abuse is “unacceptable” and drives the perception “that this type of retail crime remains a fairly low priority to most police forces”.101 James Lowman, ACS, told us “it is not just a perception; it is absolute fact and reality that shoplifting offences are not met with a police response” and also raised the issue of vastly different crime types being “lumped in together”. He said:

Where there are instances of violence, or if it is currently taking place, we need an urgent response to that, because people’s livelihoods and, even more importantly, their welfare is at stake in that situation. There should be that triaging and differentiation using all the methods: online reporting, 101 reporting, 999 reporting, and building relationships with the police and setting expectations of what should be reported and how so that it can be effective and efficient from everyone’s point of view, including the police’s.102

50.The Home Office and NRCSG reporting guidance, published on the British Retail Consortium website, states that when a crime is in progress “the most important thing to think about is safety for all those at the scene” and advises retail workers “do nothing that would provoke the offender, if possible, get to a safe place and only if safe to do so dial 999”.103

51.The guidance also sets out the following criteria for calling 999 in an emergency:

52.The next section of the guidance advises retail workers to call 101 in a “non-emergency” and sets out a list of risk factors (presence of vulnerable people, threats, injury at the scene, the risk that evidence will be lost, if the offender is in the local area, alcohol, drug or mental health issues suspected, young people or foreign nationals are involved) which retail workers should notify to the police to enable them to “decide on the most appropriate policing response”.105

53.We raised the issue of retail worker confidence and prioritisation of retail crime directly with representatives of the police during oral evidence. Chief Inspector Patrick Holdaway told us the “challenge is making sure that the retailers give the right level of information” which “will help elicit a police response if it is required”.106 Deputy Chief Constable Amanda Blakeman, Gwent Police, told us that:

From a violence point of view, if the offender is in the store [ … ] I would expect an immediate police response. If they are offering violence, if that shopworker is in a position where they are being threatened with immediate violence, I would expect an immediate response [ … ] but if the person has left the store and there is not anybody available to send, sometimes those are being dealt with either later on in the evening or the next day.107

54.Commissioner Ian Dyson said that most police forces use the THRIVE risk assessment model (threat, harm, risk, investigation opportunities, victim vulnerability, engagement level) to assess whether police attendance is required at an incident108 He told us that the decisions made by supervisors in force control rooms are not easy and involve “prioritising a limited resource”. He concluded by saying that “where the risk assessment methodology says we should attend” then “we must attend” and acknowledged that is “something for the police to work on”.109 David Jamieson, the former West Midlands PCC, identified resourcing as “partly” to blame for why shopworkers do not feel retail crime is being taken seriously. He told us:

The blue line is much thinner than it used to be. We have lost a quarter of our officers in 10 years, so the ability to respond to as many events as we would have previously done has somewhat reduced.110

55.The Policing Minister said that he does not think the policing response is “adequate” but that the “primary responsibility” for dealing with these localised issues lies with the Police and Crime Commissioners.111 He told us “the thing that has the most potential” to deliver a step change in the policing response is “really strong and comprehensive reporting” that gives police forces a clear picture of the problem.112 We discuss reporting in more detail in the next section.

56.The Committee has heard overwhelming evidence that the policing response is simply failing to match the rising tide of violence and abuse against retail workers. The evidence also suggests that the response varies significantly between police forces: while there are examples of good practice, on far too many occasions retail workers are being left alone to manage dangerous situations which put both their physical and mental wellbeing at risk. We recognise that policing has been increasingly overstretched and that officers are working hard to respond to rising demand with constrained resources. Nevertheless, police forces and the Home Office need to ensure that officers are better able to respond to rising threats and crimes against shopworkers. The police’s failure to attend or follow-up serious incidents undermines trust and confidence, discourages reporting crime, and weakens the deterrent for repeat offenders leaving shopworkers more vulnerable and letting down victims of crime.

57.We welcome the guidance for retail workers on when to use emergency and non-emergency numbers when seeking a police response and, in particular, setting out risk factors which will help the police respond appropriately to incidents. However, we do not believe that two A4 pages of guidance is a sufficient response to tackle the damaging perception that the police “don’t care” about retail crime.

The vicious cycle of under-reporting

58.During this inquiry we have heard accounts of a vicious cycle in which retail workers do not report incidents of violence and abuse to the police, as they do not believe the police will respond, and the police in turn do not prioritise attending retail crime as they are unaware of the scale and nature of the problem.113 The BRC 2021 Crime Survey estimates that just 54% of cases are reported to the police.114 Dunelm Soft Furnishing told us “our experience has been that our stores had stopped reporting these issues as it was seen as a waste of time as the police response was seen as poor.”115 Alison Hernandez, serving PCC for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, told us “I am acutely aware that [large super markets] do not report every offence to the police, only those with an aggravating factor” which means “we do not have a real picture of all retail crime recorded in our statistics”.116 David Jamieson, former PCC for the West Midlands, agreed that “much of this crime is underreported or not reported at all” and the data does not “reflect the true picture”. He also believed that only the “more serious incidents” are reported to police and what lies underneath “is an enormous amount of low-level constant abuse.”117

59.Our public survey of 12,667 retail workers found that 72% of respondents had reported incidents. Of the 8,742 retail workers in the public survey who said they had reported an incident, 87% reported it to their employer and 53% to the police. However, when we asked what “official actions” were taken as a result we received the following responses:

Figure 5

60.The written evidence we received suggests that the main factors contributing to underreporting are:

61.It is interesting to note that the top answer from retail workers in our public survey, in relation to under-reporting, was because “I did not believe my employer would do anything about it.” Responses to the Government’s 2019 call for evidence found that “employers discouraging their workforce from reporting incidents” was a significant factor in under-reporting.122 The majority of written evidence to this inquiry was submitted by businesses on behalf of retail workers.

Figure 6

Source: 3,444 survey respondents were asked why they had not reported an incident.


Improved reporting and recording

62.The Government has said it “expects all crimes to be reported to police and for them to be investigated accordingly.”123 The Home Office and NRCSG reporting guidance, published on the British Retail Consortium website, explains why it is important for retail workers to report crime, provides advice on how to report a crime in emergency and non-emergency situations and how to report a crime online. In full, it comprises just under two A4 pages of text which is targeted at improving how retailers and retail workers report crime.124 The Policing Minister, Kit Malthouse MP, told us:

We have got ourselves into a situation where people do not think it is worth reporting or they do not know how to report. That means that it is quite hard for modern policing, which is very data driven, to see the true picture of what is happening in a particular neighbourhood. We believe that encouraging reporting will help to bring greater focus and priority.125

63.During this inquiry, stakeholders have used the terms “retail crime” and “business crime” interchangeably to describe a range of offences committed against retail workers in the course of their employment. The term “retail crime” has no formal definition whereas the term “business crime” was formally defined by the National Police Chiefs’ Council in June 2019 (updating an earlier definition from 2014). It is defined as follows:

Any criminal offence where a business, or person in the course of their employment, and because of that employment, is the victim.126

64.College of Policing guidance states that police forces should use the definition “when assessing local crime data to understand the nature and extent of business crime. “127

65.Considering this much needed drive for data, and the increased pressure on retail workers and businesses to report incidents, we found it surprising that there is no mandatory process for recording crimes against retail workers, as a specific group, within police force crime statistics. The College of Policing website states that some forces apply a “business crime flag” to relevant crime reports but it is the underlying offence—such as burglary or assault—which is officially recorded by police forces in the crime statistics.128 It was clear from the evidence we received that if “business crime flags” were used consistently across forces, including for assaults on retail workers, it would enable the police better to measure the number of assaults reported in a business or retail setting. Without that consistency across forces, however, these flags fail to give an accurate indication of the scale of the problem.

66.Commissioner Ian Dyson, NPCC lead for business crime, admitted that “I cannot at this point give accurate data on the amount of, for example, assaults, violent crime or thefts that are necessarily related specifically to retail crime or business crime.”129 He told us that he has been talking to the Home Office about specific flags on crime recording but there are “probably a dozen other fellow NPCC leads” who have responsibility for specific crime targets and would also want flagging which risks making it “very complex” for forces”.130 Paul Gerrard, representing the Co-op, expressed his frustration:

I was speaking to one of the biggest police forces in the country three weeks ago. They do not even have in their system a tag that can identify business crime. When we put in the freedom of information request, they could not find it because they do not record it. You will know better than me that if you do not measure things, you certainly do not manage them. There is a real issue about the seriousness with which the police take this.131

67.David Jamieson, former PCC for the West Midlands, told the Committee that the problem is that there is “theft, fraud, abuse of various sorts but there isn’t any crime that is just business crime”.132 Alison Hernandez, PCC for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, told us that the requirement to “manually flag” an offence in the police recording system meant there was “room for error” and “along with the inconsistent application of the definition” meant that crimes of this type are “inaccurately recorded in policing.”133 She also told the committee:

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.134

68.The Association of Convenience Stores said “the lack of a standardised process for the police recording of business or retail crime” is disguising the scale of the problem. They told us that police forces should be “required to record retail crime as a category within their force’s crime statistics.”135 The National Federation of Retail Newsagents have also called for “retail crime” to be recorded by police forces as a specific category within the statistics.136 Commissioner Ian Dyson told us:

I think the challenge is being able to, at the national level, provide accurate data on where violence against shopworkers is teased out from the broader figures on violent crime.137

69.We also heard from many stakeholders that the policing response often focuses on the business aspect of the crime, rather than the impact on victims of violence and abuse. The Co-op said retail crime is “far too often” presented as “principally an issue of financial loss” when it should be about “the impact on our colleagues.”138 In the first chapter we discuss the perception that retail crime is a “victimless”, because it is often perceived to be an offence against a business rather than against individuals, in more depth.

70.We welcome the Government’s work to provide better guidance and support for retail workers on reporting retail crime. However, it is deeply disappointing that the main thrust of the Government’s response to shopworkers, who have lost confidence in the police response, is to demand increased reporting to the police without also requiring the police to improve its response. It is a serious problem that police forces could not even tell us the scale of reported assaults against shopworkers because they do not currently record the data in a way that allows it to be measured, nor do they keep effective records regarding retail or business crime. We agree that you cannot manage what you do not measure. The police must play their part in ensuring the scale and nature of the problem is fully understood by improving their own crime recording practices.

71.As a starting point, we recommend that it is made mandatory to add a “business crime flag” to offences committed in a retail environment, including assaults on retail workers. This simple step would give an important early indication of the scale of the problem and allow police forces better to understand patterns of local crime and the risks shopworkers face.

72.However, we recognise that the current broad definition of “business crime”, which encompasses cybercrime, fraud or theft at an unoccupied business premises has limitations when it comes to tackling assaults on shop workers. The broad definition does not distinguish between crimes which result in financial loss to businesses and crimes of violence towards individual retail workers, meaning the immediate human cost is not always recognised. We are concerned that the perception of “business crimes” as “victimless crimes” disguises the hugely damaging impact of violence and abuse on individual retail workers.

73.We therefore recommend that the National Business Crime Centre work with the National Police Chiefs’ Council to agree a better long-term way to identify and properly measure the violence and abuse suffered by retail workers in the crime statistics gathered by local police forces. We appreciate that the definition of business crime is not the most appropriate for the offences that have been reported to us in evidence. We therefore urge the Government to look at a more appropriate flag, such as retail business crime, which more accurately reflects the nature of the abuse we have described in this report.

Local prioritisation of violence and abuse against shopworkers

74.Police and Crime Commissioners and Chief Constables are responsible for the priority given to responding to retail crime and to attacks and abuse against shopworkers. Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) were created by the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 to replace police authorities in England and Wales. Their core functions are to appoint the chief constable, set the budget and to set local policing priorities. Many stakeholders to this inquiry have suggested that Police and Crime Commissioners should include action on retail crime in their police and crime plans to ensure it is properly prioritised by police forces.139 In 2018, the Centre for Social Justice found that 63% of police and crime plans made no reference to business crime and 83% made no reference to the business community.140 The National Federation of Retail Newsagents told us that before the 2021 elections “only two of the 42 force plans” made any mention of retail crime and “only 17 referred to business crime or shop lifting.”141 Former PCC David Jamieson, who submitted evidence to this inquiry, told us that in April 2020 he launched “an emergency chapter” to his police and crime plan requiring that “robust action” should be taken against those targeting retail staff. To help build local relationships he also “set up roundtables” with retailers, police and the local authority to create “place-based activity” and identify local problems.142 However, he also told us that police resourcing pressures meant that “the impact our prioritisation has on the confidence of retailers” can only go so far.143 PCC Alison Hernandez told us her crime plan included the following steps to tackle retail crime:

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 [ … ] provide a visible deterrent, and support the police in preventing and investigating anti-social behaviour and crime including that directed at businesses and retail.144

75.Elections were held on 6 May 2021 for 39 Police and Crime Commissioners, 4 Police, Fire and Crime Commissioners and three Mayors who took up their posts on 13 May 2021. All PCCs must publish a five-year police and crime plan for their force.145 PCCs typically publish their police and crime plan in the year following their election and they tend to cover the PCC’s entire term. The PCC’s police and crime plan must include details on: their objectives for their force, the financial resources available to their force and how they will measure the performance of their force.146 Many PCCs measure performance by setting local targets for their force. Some PCCs set targets based on recorded crime levels, public satisfaction and/or output measures (like emergency call response times).147 All PCCs are also members of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC).148 In 2020 the APCC established a Retail and Business Crime Portfolio, chaired by Katy Bourne PCC, whose objectives are:

76.In Sussex, where Katy Bourne is the Police and Crime Commissioner, the police have launched a pilot ‘one-touch’ reporting process that feeds reports of crime directly into police systems and simultaneously shares with accredited Business Crime Reduction Partnerships.150 This has enabled the police to gather together a photo gallery of prolific offenders from a range of businesses and shared those using a GDPR compliant process, internally in the police and across participating businesses. As a result, a number of individuals have been arrested by the police having been identified in the community. In addition, businesses have been able to manage their engagement with these offenders and proactively reduce the risk to their colleagues.151 Paul Gerrard, representing the Co-op, told us that the early success of this pilot one-stop reporting process proved that the problems “can be fixed” but it needed “the police to take it seriously”.152

77.Chief Constables are responsible for operational decisions, including allocation of resources to high street or neighbourhood policing and the priority given to responding to attacks and abuse against shopworkers or to retail crime. We heard that police Chief Constables have funded a team of 10 analysts and field intelligence officers who are working at a national level to understand the scale of acquisitive crime and the use of violence as part of that crime.153 The Government and NRCSG guidance, published on the British Retail Consortium website, defines the characteristics of good data sharing and provides three short examples (PCC Katy Bourne’s pilot above, the National Association of Business Crime Partnerships and the Co-op’s partnership with Nottinghamshire police).154 The content is general and high level with the guidance emphasising that “we should not try and set a one size fits all in terms of what data would be helpful to share”.155

78.As local representatives Police and Crime Commissioners are well placed to understand the specific issues facing the retail community in their area and to ensure police forces focus attention on this critical issue. Collaboration between police and retailers to identify repeat offenders is a powerful tool in crime prevention. We welcome early reports regarding the pilot one-touch reporting process introduced by Katy Bourne in Sussex. We encourage all Police and Crime Commissioners to use their unique position to help improve data sharing, build trust and bridge the gap between local businesses and police forces. We call on all Police and Crime Commissioners to work with local retailers to establish or strengthen Business Crime Reduction Partnerships and to develop local retail crime reduction plans, including arrangements for local reporting, identifying patterns of crime and prolific offenders to be targeted, and re-building confidence in the police response to violence and abuse against shopworkers.

79.We strongly support calls for Police and Crime Commissioners to make action on violence and abuse towards retail workers a priority in police and crime plans. We are very concerned how few appear to have prioritised this in past plans, or to have recognised the human cost of retail crime. The resetting of police and crime plans, following the Police and Crime Commissioner elections in May 2021, presents a valuable window of opportunity to ensure that this previously neglected crime is properly prioritised in future. We also encourage Police and Crime Commissioners to set out in their police and crime plans how they will measure their police force’s performance in response to violence and abuse towards retail workers. A particularly effective approach for building confidence would be for local police forces, retailers and Police and Crime Commissioners to discuss and agree a performance metric for the policing response which is tailored to the challenges faced in their local area.

80.Chief Constables must do much more to demonstrate that they recognise the human cost of escalating violence and abuse against shopworkers. They need to ensure they have proper systems in place for monitoring and recording. Most importantly, they need to ensure that officers are not underestimating the seriousness of these crimes because they take place on business or retail premises. All forces should review the response priority given to these kinds of crimes in line with the new Government guidance to make sure they are taking it seriously enough. All forces should conduct an assessment of the level and patterns of violence and abuse against shop workers in their areas, and identify a lead officer to work with local businesses and local authorities in partnership on reducing crime.

Neighbourhood policing

81.Increasing policing resource, and neighbourhood policing resource in particular, was identified by many stakeholders to this inquiry as a key factor for improving the police response to retail crime. Central government funding for policing was reduced by 22% in real terms between 2010 and 2019, resulting in 21,000 fewer police officers in addition to 18,000 fewer police staff and 6,800 fewer police community support officers.156 Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire Services’ (HMICFRS) Integrated PEEL Assessments for 2018/19 found that police forces are providing services under the twin pressures of rising demand and falling resources.157 With regards to neighbourhood policing the report concluded:

We continue to find a lack of capacity in neighbourhood policing to analyse and use intelligence. A lack of analysis and sharing of best practice reduces how effective neighbourhood policing is at keeping people safe.158

82.In September 2019, the Government launched a campaign to recruit 20,000 new police officers.159 Paul Gerrard, representing the Co-op, told us that some of the new policing resources “needs to go into neighbourhood policing teams” because it is “neighbourhood policing teams that will help address these issues”.160 The British Retail Consortium also asked that some of the new policing resource “be diverted to focus specifically on retail crime to tackle the growing rate.”161 The Association of Convenience Stores told us that the Home Office must “focus funding on community policing to provide a visible presence in the community” and improve the ability of officers to respond to retail violence.”162 James Lowman, ACS, gave the following example of the benefits of effective local partnerships with the police:

Some of the best things, which are very effective, are in trying to engage with neighbourhood policing to say, “We see you here every Thursday night. If you could be here every Wednesday night, that is when we get more of our problems,” because there might be particular local dynamics that mean that that is when issues might tend to present ”.163

83.Deputy Chief Inspector Amanda Blakeman told us that her force in Gwent were tackling low retail worker confidence and trust through “investment in neighbourhood policing teams and problem solving”. She set out the focus of these teams as the following:

Trying to identify the repeat locations that are targeted, the repeat victims in those locations and the repeat offenders, so that we have a clear and comprehensive plan of how to tackle all three of those areas together.164

84.The Policing Minister, Kit Malthouse MP, told us the Home Office is “well ahead of schedule at nearly 9,000 officers recruited in the first 12 months” and that improving capacity would improve the response to retail crime.165 This view was echoed by Commissioner Ian Dyson who told us:

the uplift in police officers in the next few years will help boost local policing so that there can be, if not an immediate attendance, follow up by community officers to make sure the retailers and their staff realise we do care and we are concerned, even if there was not an immediate response.166

85.The lack of capacity in neighbourhood policing teams to build relationships with retailers, identify prolific offenders and respond swiftly to incidents of retail crime has damaged the confidence of retail workers. It has made it harder to maintain close relationships between the police and local high street retailers, or to pursue community relationships, which has had a significant impact on crime prevention work. These teams play a vital role in identifying and addressing the specific challenges facing retailers on their local high street. We believe it is extremely important that neighbourhood policing teams are prioritised for new resource as part of the 20,000 police officer uplift programme. Both Police and Crime Commissioners and Chief Constables should make neighbourhood policing a priority. Chief Constables should examine their current resourcing arrangements and ring-fence a proportion of their additional policing capacity to expand neighbourhood teams.

Leadership from the National Business Crime Centre

86.The police response to retail crime is managed on a force-by-force basis. However, in 2016 the National Business Crime Centre (NBCC) was created to provide strategic oversight. It does not offer a proactive or investigative capability but supports the police and business communities and acts as a conduit for sharing advice and trends nationally. It describes its areas of work as the following:

87.The NBCC website contains links to guidance for retailers and it maintains a list of identified business crime single points of contact (SPOCs) for each police force area. The SPOCs are networked nationally and aim to introduce good practice in their area. Force SPOCs are expected to work with business head offices located in their force area to agree common operating procedures, including issues such as timeliness of crime reporting, evidence gathering and the content of witness statements to improve consistency.168 The NBCC has also developed a set of standards for Business Crime Reduction Partnerships (BCRPs) which aims to promote better working between police and the partnerships. The NBCC believes that by demonstrating accredited partnerships meet the national standard, police forces will be more confident to ‘dare to share’ information and act on the information they receive from BCRPs, fostering a culture of collaborative working.169

88.The centre received its initial funding from the Home Office Police Transformation Fund in 2016 via a grant for £1 million awarded to Nottinghamshire Police across 3 years to set up a national hub that would address business crime in a more consistent way across the UK. However, Commissioner Ian Dyson told us that the NBCC is a small unit of “three or four people” which, now the three years has elapsed, is dependent on the City of London Police for funding.170 Iona Blake, Boots UK, told us “the support that we have had from the National Business Crime Centre, throughout the Covid pandemic in particular, has helped us move things forward for our colleagues in stores”.171

89.There is clearly an issue with the consistency of the policing response to retail crime across the country. In light of this finding, the Committee was disappointed to learn that the Government is no longer directly funding the work of the National Business Crime Centre. The National Business Crime Centre is well placed to ensure the sharing of best practice approaches, improve links with the business community and drive up consistency. At a time when violence in retail and business settings is increasing rapidly, the decision to discontinue direct funding for an established and well-respected body tasked with strategic oversight of the issue seems nonsensical.

90.The Home Office work to tackle violence and abuse against shopworkers over the last twelve months has been welcome. But the temporary working groups they set up to draw up new guidance are not sufficient to deliver sustained change or provide continual national leadership. We recommend the Home Office provide central funding for the continued operation of the National Business Crime Centre.

Business Crime Reduction Partnerships

91.Business Crime Reduction Partnerships (BCRP) are not-for-profit partnerships which bring together businesses, local authorities and the police to prevent crime. At its simplest, a BCRP is an intelligence gathering and information sharing system. The National Association of Business Crime Partnerships (NABCP) is the national organisation which represents 126 BCRPs across the UK reaching out to over 20,000 retailers. BCRPs have had many titles (for example, Crime Initiatives, Partnerships Against Crime) but the principles they employ are broadly similar:

92.David Jamieson, former PCC for the West Midlands, told us that creating partnerships with shopkeepers and business improvement districts enabled the police to identify “areas of vulnerability” and provide extra patrols which help to protect shopworkers.173 The Co-op also found that BCRPs with links to local forces can help “tailor patrols” in their local area and “allow colleagues to keep in contact with other retailers in the local area and make them aware of offenders”.174 Detective Inspector Patrick Holdaway described his local BCRP as “critical friends” who the force work with “to develop plans”, identify “regular offenders” and get the message out that reporting is key.175 Commissioner Ian Dyson, in his closing remarks, said that the one measure he thought would be most effective at tackling retail crime is “strong local Business Crime Reduction Partnerships that understand this issue”.176 Policing Minister, Kit Malthouse MP told us:

I hope police and crime commissioners will adopt business crime partnerships, as they have in Sussex and elsewhere across the country, to allow them to bring that shared picture in focus.177

93.The Government’s call for evidence on violence and abuse towards shop workers stated “we know that schemes such as ShopWatch, which works to improve communication between retailers and the local police, can help prevent crime and anti-social behaviour. In addition, arrangements such as multi-agency Business Crime Reduction Partnerships (BCRPs), which bring together businesses, the police, and council, can help to ensure a coordinated approach to preventing and tackling these crimes.”178 In his evidence to the Committee, Policing Minister Kit Malthouse MP also listed encouraging BCRP “in particular geographies where chief constables and police and crime commissioners can concentrate their fire” as an important strand of work.179

94.In January 2020, the Home Office launched the Safer Streets fund. It enables Police and Crime Commissioners in England and Wales to bid for extra money to increase crime prevention measures in their local area.180 The fund is specifically designed for areas that need to tackle theft, robbery and burglary–known as acquisitive crimes. Possible measures include: increasing street lighting, installing better locks, gating alleyways, training community wardens and delivering local crime prevention advice to residents or Neighbourhood Watch schemes. The first tranche of funding comprised a total of £25 million with successful areas receiving grants of up to £550,000.181 In January 2021, the Home Office announced a second round of funding for £20 million which would be specifically focussed on the prevention of burglary, robbery, theft from the person and vehicle crime. The second round also enabled local authorities to bid.182 Forty areas across England and Wales were awarded a total of £18.4 million as a result of the bidding process.183 On 3 June 2021, the Home Office announced another £25 million for the Safer Streets fund, to run in parallel with the second round in 2020/21. The objective of the third round is to “improve the safety of public places for all” with a particular focus on reducing violence against women and girls (VAWG). The prospectus for applicants states that all bidders are encouraged to “devise innovative and inventive proposals” to reduce VAWG crime and “do not require bidders to stick to traditional Safer Streets investments such as CCTV or street lighting”. Although, these interventions are still eligible for investment, “bidders are strongly encouraged to think creatively”.184

95.Business Crime Reduction Partnerships have huge potential to improve communication and collaboration between the police, local retailers and local authorities on the issue of retail crime. Tailoring the policing response to areas of particular vulnerability, identifying repeat offenders, and developing joint preventative plans are effective measures for improving the police response. Closer collaboration may also have a positive impact on retailer confidence and reporting of incidents. Smaller retailers in particular, who do not have the security support and expertise that bigger corporations do, are particularly reliant on support through local partnerships. There is considerable potential for these to do far more on every high street including better investment in CCTV and communication networks, supporting small shop owners who may be working alone. We recommend that the Government provides greater support for the creation of Business Crime Reduction Partnerships including actively encouraging partnerships to cover smaller town centres and areas where there are many independent shops with less capacity to organise local security and crime prevention. We also recommend involving shopworkers themselves as well as major employers in crime reduction partnerships as they will often have the clearest idea both of the human cost of crime and of the local measures that could make a difference.

96.We welcome the additional money available to local authorities and Police and Crime Commissioners to spend on preventative measures via the Safer Streets Fund. However, we note that none of the funding rounds have placed any emphasis on preventative measures for violence and abuse towards retail workers. We recommend that the Home Office make clear that they welcome bids to the current Safer Streets Fund for measures that will improve the safety of shop workers, and actively encourage local councils, communities and business partnerships to draw up bids which directly tackle violence and abuse in retail settings and on high streets. We also recommend that a future round should set this as a priority.

79 Crime Report 2021, Association of Convenience Stores

84 Ibid

88 Anonymous (VTR0008)

89 Crime Report 2021, Association of Convenience Stores

90 Sainsbury’s (VTR0019)

91 Wickes (VTR0010)

92 Pets at Home Plc (VTR0009)

93 Pets at Home Plc (VTR0009)

94 Ibid

95 Tesco (VTR0033)

99 Wickes (VTR0010)

101 Dixons Carphone (VTR0012)


105 Section 3, reporting in a non-emergency, Reporting a crime in an emergency, NATIONAL RETAIL CRIME STEERING GROUP, VIOLENCE AND ABUSE AGAINST SHOP WORKERS, BRC Website

114 Crime Survey, British Retail Consortium, May 2021, Q41

119 Wickes (VTR0010), Dunelm Soft Furnishings (VTR0001), British Retail Consortium (VTR0015), Central England Co-operative (VTR0014)

120 UK Finance (VTR0037)

121 Anonymous (VTR0008), Dixons Carphone (VTR0012), Wickes (VTR0010), WM Morrison Supermarkets PLC (VTR0028), Institute of Customer Service (VTR0022)

122 Home Office (VTR0035)

123 Home Office (VTR0035)

126 Enforcing business crime, College of Policing

127 Enforcing business crime, College of Policing

138 Co-op Group (VTR0027)

139 Co-op Group (VTR0027), Tesco (VTR0033), Anonymous (VTR0025), Boots (VTR0026), Association of Convenience Stores (VTR0021), Crime Report 2021, Association of Convenience Stores

145 s7, Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011

146 s7, Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011

147 House of Commons Library briefing, Police and Crime Commissioners, No.6104, 2 June 2021

150 Ibid

151 Characteristics of good data sharing, NATIONAL RETAIL CRIME STEERING GROUP, BRC website.

155 Ibid

156 Dr Emmeline Taylor, ‘Breaking the cycle, May 2021, Police Service Strength, Commons Library briefing paper CBP-0664, 27 March 2018

157 Noticeable differences between police and the service they provide, HMICFRS, 7 February 2020

158 PEEL spotlight report, Diverging under pressure, 7 February 2020

174 Co-op Group (VTR0027)

180 Launch of Safer Streets Fund, Home Office, 26 January 2020

181 Launch of Safer Streets Fund, Home Office, 26 January 2020

Published: 29 June 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement