Rise in assaults against shopworkers in Sussex
Police & Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne convened a meeting recently to address the concerns raised by local businesses about physical assaults, verbal abuse and intimidation against their shopworkers.
This meeting involved members of the Safer Sussex Business Partnership which includes senior officers from Sussex Police, business crime experts, representatives from Tesco, Sainsbury’s and the Co-op as well as representatives of smaller, local stores, business crime reduction partnerships and Mitie.
PCC Bourne established this ground-breaking partnership in February, when members signed a pledge to work together to find more sustainable ways to tackle business crime and make retail workers feel safe and supported.
From April 1 2019 to March 31 2020, there were 483 reports of violence against a shopworker made to Sussex Police, an increase of 32% (156 reports) over the previous year.
However, from speaking extensively to local business owners and larger retailers, PCC Bourne heard that this type of crime is still vastly under-reported and is having huge impacts on its victims and wider community.
In today’s meeting it was revealed that local stores across the county are experiencing ‘horrific rises’ in verbal abuse and violence against their staff, exacerbated by the current pandemic which has led to product shortages and strict social distancing measures.
Danny Molloy, Tesco Area Manager for Sussex and Kent said; “We have seen an increase in colleagues assaulted and spat at recently. The prolific offenders causing problems for us before have just got worse. As lockdown loosens, we are also expecting to see an increase in shoplifting and with that will come even more violence and threatening behaviour. As a local retailer we will be looking to share our data more widely and report more incidents to the police who I have been reassured will take action.”
One large chain retailer has experienced over 7,000 crimes in just the last three months, including assaults on their staff and security. Many of these crimes have been driven by homelessness, local drug supply and county lines.
All representatives agreed that the majority of crimes in their local stores are carried out by prolific offenders, who use threatening and sometimes violent behaviour if challenged by staff. It was agreed that intelligence sharing amongst local businesses and the police is key to ensuring these people are taken off our streets.
PCC Bourne comments; “These figures are shocking, so I’m pleased that, today, we started to identify better ways of sharing data and creating a clearer communication channel between local businesses and the police.
“This pandemic has shown how important our local businesses and their staff are to our communities. Intimidation, verbal abuse and violence of any kind against shopworkers cannot be tolerated.
“We have developed a unique partnership, recognising that business crime matters and making best use of each other’s expertise. I want to assure all business owners and staff that their concerns are being listened to and will be robustly and positively acted upon.
“Sussex Police is expanding, meaning we now have more boots on the ground gathering vital intelligence, working with partners and targeting prolific offenders.”
Security Operation Centres are the hub for many local businesses where CCTV data is stored and intelligence gathered. At today’s meeting it was agreed that this information needs to be more widely shared with Sussex Police so that officers can establish more robust cases against offenders and bring them to justice.
Business Crime Lead for Sussex Police, Chris Neilson comments; “We don’t want to just push the problem from one area to another. If there are prolific offenders known to numerous businesses across the county, we will be working to target these individuals and using the powers we have to take positive action against them.
“By working closely with larger retailers and their centralised security, and by engaging with smaller local stores to gather intelligence, we can improve our approach to business crime and ensure that our figures better reflect the current situation in Sussex.”
Newly appointed Chief Constable Jo Shiner was also in the meeting as a new member of the partnership. She pledged her commitment to tackling business crime saying; “It is absolutely unacceptable that members of our community are being targeted in this way, just for carrying out their job.
“Although the increase in the reporting of violence does suggest that people feel more comfortable talking to the police, it also reflects that some individuals think this sort of criminal behaviour is appropriate, and they could not be more wrong.
“During the COVID_19 pandemic, we have seen how intrinsic retail workers are to our way of life: treating them like this is not how we show our thanks, and we are committed to bringing this sort of crime down. No one deserves to go to work in fear of violence.”
Another meeting of the Safer Sussex Business Partnership will be convened on July 17 with another scheduled for July 29. These meetings will look at easier and less time-consuming ways for businesses to report crime and then subsequently how officers will investigate and feed back the results of investigations.