Preventing crime against retail workers

Preventing crime against retail workers
(Image credit: Shutterstock / carlos castilla)

There have been 50,338 incidents of violent crime against convenience shop workers in the UK in the past year – 25% of which resulted in injury. In recent government consultation, shop workers reported incidents of spitting, biting, armed robberies, and racial abuse among the criminal behavior that they faced. It affects all retailers, simply looking at Co-Op’s #ItsNotPartOfTheJob hashtag on Twitter reveals hundreds of cases from shop workers who have been subject to abuse whilst carrying out their work.

Retailers have seen these problems which have only been exacerbated by the pandemic, as issues such as panic buying, and controversy around face mask enforcement create tension between shop workers and some members of the public. As they continue working hard to provide for the community, taking greater action to protect employees is of paramount importance – and fortunately, technology that is easy-to-use can play a role in combating retail crime and violence.

The case for body-worn cameras

When thinking of body-worn cameras, most people will picture them being worn by police officers. They are worn on the officer’s uniform while they are on patrol, capturing what they see to assist with future prosecutions and, at the same time, ensuring greater accountability and transparency in policing.

It might seem surprising that use of the technology is extending into retail settings, where fixed CCTV already plays a similar role in preventing crime. But in response to the rise in violence against retail workers, 250 Co-op stores have equipped staff with body cameras, which can activate real-time audio and visual recording that is remotely monitored by their security partner - Mitie. Staff can activate the body-worn cameras as incidents arise, providing an objective view of a situation and clear evidence of retail crime as it happens or as violence or verbal abuse against staff occurs.

However, body-worn cameras can also help create solutions that ensure long-term safety for both retail staff, and the wider community. The magnitude, severity, and characteristics of crime in local stores can be analyzed, it becomes easier to define the prevalence of types of crime in specific locations. This in turn can lead to better resourcing, policy and policing that is more targeted at addressing the social circumstances that lead to crime, rather than simply increasing the number of successful prosecutions – a strategy advocated for in a recent research report from the University of London.

Our partnership with the Co-op as suppliers of market-leading VT100 body-worn cameras therefore has three objectives – helping to reduce incidences of crime against retail workers by acting as a deterrent at the point where a crime might be committed, but also providing the footage and data needed to secure prosecution while working towards a sustainable reduction in crime. Lastly but most importantly, the cameras increase the safety of frontline staff and their feeling of being protected and valued by their employer.

Investment in crime prevention

The British Retail Consortium estimated that from 2018 to 2019, the combined cost of crime prevention and losses from retail crime reached £1.9billion. This highlights the need for investment in crime reduction, where video technology plays a critical role in addressing the immediate priority to protect workers on the frontline. But to be effective, such investment must be part of a long-term comprehensive strategy to tackle retail crime.

Day-to-day crime prevention in the community requires the kind of human judgement and empathy that no technology alone could ever replace. But if the administrative burden of sifting through CCTV and body-worn camera footage takes up a disproportionate amount of public safety workers time, then they are less able to be present in the community, introducing costly inefficiency.

Police forces in the UK use AI tools like CommandCentral Aware that support with footage analysis, such as that captured by body-worn cameras, and present key insights to help save countless hours of human time. This in turn allows for more Police in public-facing roles where they are needed most – in the heart of communities where crime is more prevalent. Investment in such technology now can help provide long term security for the future, building a more contextualized approach to great swathes of data that enable tackling crime as it occurs, and provide insights to inform policy for future prevention.

We see then that, in the future of preventing retail crime, among other antisocial behavior, AI analytics are invaluable. AI should not be tasked with making decisions, but instead with recognizing and interpreting the emerging footage that allows stores to better understand risks, and the police to better combat crime in the community.

Body-worn cameras are being used now to make retail workers safer day-to-day, deterring abuse and helping to secure prosecution against violent criminals. They’re also contributing in the long term to building a greater context of how and why crime happens in communities, so that it can be tackled with the ultimate goal in mind – creating safer communities, not just for retail workers but for everyone.

  • Richie McBride is Director of Business Operations, Video & Analytics at Motorola Solutions UK.

Richie McBride is Director of Business Operations, Video & Analytics at Motorola Solutions UK.